Dozen-Plus Black Mauritanians in Ohio Freed, But Many More Still in ICE Detention

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Houleye Thiam, Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in the U.S. - Courtesy: Just North Church, Columbus
Courtesy: Just North Church, Columbus
Houleye Thiam, Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in the U.S.

Thanks largely to the dedication of activists and lawyers, more than a dozen black Mauritanian immigrants who had been detained by ICE in 2018 are now back home in Ohio with their families.

Many more are yet to be released from ICE detention, however, and activists aren't taking their feet off the gas. Nearly 300 people gathered in Columbus last weekend for an interfaith benefit concert at Just North Church to celebrate the release of Mauritanian Ohioans and to continue to raise funds and awareness for the release of others. 

Scene reported on the immigration crisis in Ohio's backyard earlier this year. Mauritanians settled in Ohio throughout the 90s and early 00s after fleeing from genocidal violence and oppression in Mauritania, a northwest African nation where traditional chattel slavery is still tacitly permitted.

Under the Trump administration, these Mauritanian immigrants, who had applied for asylum but were often denied on technical grounds, were being deported in higher numbers to a country that didn't recognize them as citizens. They faced prison and torture upon their return. In Ohio, they'd held jobs and  started families. They paid taxes. But that didn't prevent them from being detained during periodic check-ins with ICE. 

Attorney Eugenio Mollo, Jr., of  Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), said in a statement provided to the media after the benefit concert that "consistent and successful legal advocacy has at least temporarily shifted ICE’s routine policy on detention and deportation of Black Mauritanians in Ohio." 

"While our released clients are breathing some sighs of relief," he said, "they don’t know for how long. We need to continue holding ICE accountable for its actions as we seek justice through the courts.”

Houleye Thiam, leader of the Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in the U.S., delivered remarks at the concert explaining the situation in Mauritania and thanking local advocates for their allyship.

While the governments of Mauritania and the U.S. have turned their backs on black Mauritanians, she said, communities in Ohio have done the opposite. They have stood up and stood out for justice, and have demonstrated, by their words and actions, that Mauritanians are welcome in Ohio's communities.

"Many of you only heard about Mauritania a few months ago," she said. "Many of you cannot point it out on a map. And yet, you are still here. That means so much to us."

Among the many action items available for supporters, Thiam stressed that one of the most important things Ohioans could do is continue the conversation.

"Continue to talk about Mauritania at the kitchen table, at your place of worship, at the grocery store," she said. "The Mauritanian story needs to be told. It is a question of human dignity."

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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