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Immigrant Advocates Demand Release Of Black Migrants From Prairieland Detention Center

Photo of a young man standing outside, wearing a face mask and holding a yellow sign that says "Free Black Migrants #FreeCameroonians."
Stella M. Chávez
A protester stands outside Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas on Oct. 12, 2020. He and other immigrant advocates are demanding ICE release a group of Black migrants, who allege they were forced to sign voluntary deportation papers. The men also allege they were physically abused and threatened at Adams County Correctional Center in Mississippi where they were previously held.

Advocates want detainees to be released and are demanding federal officials investigate allegations from eight men who say they were physically abused and threatened while previously detained at Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez, Mississippi.

Immigrant advocates are demanding U.S. immigration officials not deport a group of Black migrants being held at Prairieland Detention Center south of Fort Worth.

Instead, they want federal officials to investigate allegations from eight men who say they were physically abused and threatened while previously detained at Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez, Mississippi.

On Oct. 7, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants filed a complaint with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and officials at Department of Homeland Security, including DHS Inspector General.

The complaint alleges that ICE officers, guards and the facility administrator at Adams County Correctional Center “tortured Cameroonian individuals in attempts to coerce them to sign immigration documents through pressure, threats and — in several cases — excessive use of force, including physical abuse and pepper spray, resulting in severe injury.”

Details include detainees’ fingerprints being forcibly taken while handcuffed and the fingers of a man being broken. The men allege that some of these incidents were filmed by guards on site.

The complaint also raises concerns that travel documents for the men “may not be authentic or legally valid.”

Sofia Casini, Director of Advocacy Strategies at Freedom for Immigrants, said the lives of these migrants are at stake if they return to their native Cameroon where there has been ongoing fighting between the French-speaking government and English-speaking minority.

“What’s happened inside of ICE detention is these Cameroonians are being absolutely denied their safety across the board and it’s racism if you’re looking at the approval rates for other countries and Black migrants,” Casini said. “They historically have far lower rates of approval.”

Casini said all of the detainees’ reports about their experiences were taken independently and line up with complaints Freedom for Immigrants has received on its confidential hotline. Numerous calls came from detainees in Louisiana, Mississippi and California, who said they were being transferred to another detention center and scheduled for deportation.

Casini said in recent days the hotline has received a flood of calls from detainees inside Prairieland Detention Center.

KERA reached out to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday, but has not heard back.

Casini said most of the migrants being detained came across the U.S. border asking for asylum.

“I think it’s essential that communities witness what’s about to take place,” Casini said. “These men and women are fighting for their life. If they are sent back to Cameroon, we do believe the Cameroonian government will know that they are arriving as one large group and will take steps immediately to re-detain and torture them and kill many of them.”

Read the full complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Freedom for Immigrants.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Updated: October 13, 2020 at 11:24 PM CDT
Immigrant advocates, including from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Freedom for Immigrants, said a plane carrying Cameroonian and Congolese migrants departed from Alliance Airport in Fort Worth late Tuesday afternoon. Also on Tuesday, congressional leaders, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, sent letters to ICE urging it to stop the deportation and investigate allegations of abuse made by the migrants. ICE has not responded to KERA's request for information.
Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.