Congress asks Biden-Harris admin to address discrimination against Black Mauritanians at border

EXCLUSIVE: Democrats send a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, urging the agency to intervene in unfair immigration practices that harm Black Mauritanians.

House Democrats are urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to address civil rights violations that Black Mauritanians are encountering at the U.S. border.

U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., told theGrio that “an immediate policy change” to the U.S. immigration system is “necessary.”

“People in need have the right to seek asylum in our nation,” said Clarke. “We have a moral obligation not to inflict further punishment on them only for exercising that right.”

Clarke is leading the effort to enforce civil rights protections for Black Mauritanians seeking asylum in the U.S. and drafted a letter to the DHS asking the department to intervene in unfair immigration practices that harm Black Mauritanians. The letter is signed by 19 other House Democrats, including Reps. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Cori Bush, D-Mo., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. 

The letter details how Mauritanians “fled state-sanctioned violence and discrimination yet are being subjected to unnecessary detainment.”

“All while lacking the language access they need to have a fair chance of seeking protection in the United States,” the letter reads.

U.S. Rep. Yvette Clark, D-N.Y.,
Washington , D.C. – January 26 : Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-NY., speaks with other lawmakers about Border Policies during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday, January 26, 2023, in Washington DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Som-Mai Nguyen, an immigration attorney, is currently litigating a case where her client, a Mauritanian national, was unrepresented and initially denied asylum because he was incapable of submitting an asylum form. The form was in English. However, Nguyen’s client speaks only Pulaar and cannot read or write in any language. He was then ordered to be deported for his failure to complete the form, although he was not given access to language services while he was detained.

Nationalities Service Center and its partners learned of the client’s case and were able to reverse his deportation judgment, and now he has the opportunity to apply for asylum. Nguyen said her client is seeking asylum “because he’s politically active in Mauritania.”

“He attended a protest for Black Mauritanians, was arrested and beaten, and was subjected to physical and psychological harm,” said Nguyen. “He then fled to the U.S.”

Congresswoman Clarke told theGrio that Mauritanians like Nguyen’s client are fleeing their homes to “escape slavery, forced statelessness and human rights violations … only to confront unjust detention in America.”

As a result, House Democrats are demanding the DHS release Mauritanian asylum seekers, especially those who have not been provided accommodations due to language barriers. They are also requesting that the agency halt the deportation of Mauritanians while the DHS launches an investigation into the mistreatment of Mauritanians during the immigration process.

These efforts come a month after other members of Congress urged the Biden-Harris administration to halt the deportation of Black Mauritanians from the U.S. and grant them Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

LUKEVILLE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 05: An immigrant from the west African country of Mauritania waits to be processed by U.S. border authorities on December 05, 2023 in Lukeville, Arizona. A surge of immigrants passing through openings in the border wall cut by smugglers has overwhelmed U.S. immigration officials, causing them to shut down the U.S.-Mexico port of entry in Lukeville, so that officers can help process the new arrivals. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla., previously told theGrio that more than half of the Mauritanian population is “vulnerable to enslavement-like conditions,” sexual assault, murder, and family separation and have fled to the U.S. seeking refuge.

In 1981, Mauritania became one of the last countries to outlaw slavery, and in 2007, the country enacted anti-slavery laws. However, congressional members have criticized the country’s government for not enforcing those laws.

As a result, slavery still exists in the country and has disproportionately impacted Black Mauritanians.

In 1989, Mauritania’s Black population took another blow when the government stripped 50,000 Black Mauritanians of their citizenship, subjecting them to racial profiling, extortion, and torture.

In 1991, things worsened when the government switched the national language from French to Arabic, displacing many Black Mauritanians who only knew French. Due to the language barrier, Black Mauritanians have become second-class citizens in their own country.

Cherfilus-McCormick and other House members are hopeful the Biden-Harris administration will respond to their requests to grant Black Mauritanians TPS because the U.S. has a duty to protect them.

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