In a win for immigrant rights, the Biden administration has granted temporary protected status, or TPS, to Cameroonians living in the United States. The move allows around 40,000 Cameroonians to become eligible for the relief, which would protect them from deportation back to a politically unstable state and grant them permission to work in the U.S. for at least 18 months amid escalating violence in Cameroon between government forces and armed rebels. The long fight for Cameroonians to gain protections so swiftly granted to Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks reveals the U.S. “double standard” when it comes to a “universal protection that was supposed to go out for everybody who was experiencing similar situations,” says Daniel Tse, co-founder of Cameroon Advocacy Network.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We end today’s show with a rare victory for human rights. Facing mounting pressure from immigrant justice advocates, the Biden administration has granted temporary protected status, or TPS, to Cameroonians living in the United States. An estimated 40,000 Cameroonians are eligible to apply for the relief, which would shield them from deportation and grant them permission to work in the U.S. for at least 18 months. In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, quote, “The United States recognizes the ongoing armed conflict in Cameroon, and we will provide temporary protection to those in need,” unquote.
Cameroonian advocates and supporters have been fighting for years for this protection, denouncing the U.S. government for continuing to deport asylum seekers to Cameroon as the country reels from an ongoing armed conflict. Deportees have faced serious human rights violations, including torture, rape and arbitrary arrest. In February, Human Rights Watch released a report tracing the whereabouts of dozens of Cameroonians deported from the U.S. despite saying they feared for their lives.
“WALTER”: I was held incommunicado for over five months. And at the end of it all, it was just a motive to extort money from my family, because we had pay a ransom of 2 million francs, which is about $4,000 U.S.
AMY GOODMAN: Many Cameroonian asylum seekers have also accused ICE — that’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement — of medical neglect and gross mistreatment while in custody. Black immigrant justice advocates have condemned a racist U.S. immigration system that brutalized refugees from Haiti, Cameroon and other African nations, while welcoming white Ukrainian refugees with open arms as they flee Russia’s invasion. In a statement, the UndocuBlack Network said, quote, “At a time when the discourse around the moral obligation to welcome those fleeing conflict zones has taken center stage, the continued deportation of Cameroonians to an active war zone felt especially cruel,” they said.
Well, joining us now from Irvine, California, is Daniel Tse, co-founder of the Cameroon Advocacy Network.
Welcome to Democracy Now! This is such a significant win, because Cameroonians and allies have been fighting for this for years. Do you believe this came because of the just clear double standard that came out when the U.S. granted Ukrainians temporary protected status, and Cameroonians said, “What about us?”
DANIEL TSE: Thank you so much, Ms. Goodman. First of all, first I’ll begin by saying our prayers go out to the people and families of North Carolina and Pittsburgh, and just people across the U.S. and across the world, as we’ve seen an escalation of violence and so much atrocities happen around the world.
Yeah, Amy, you’re right. This decision by the secretary of the homeland security, whom we really applaud and has been working hard, has granted temporary protected status to Cameroon. We’ve seen that this petition was granted to other countries very quickly, very swiftly, but we’ve been advocating for years. Advocates have been advocating for TPS as long as six years ago, due to long-lasting sociopolitical tension and armed conflict that’s going on in Cameroon right now, which has left about 4.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. So, this was really a double standard nature by the administration to quickly and swiftly grant this protection to community members from Ukraine and Afghanistan, whom we really applaud — we stand in solidarity with them — but this is supposed to be a universal protection that was supposed to go out for everybody who is experiencing similar situations.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is so significant, what has taken place, and the level of your, your group and other Cameroonian and allied groups’ advocacy. But, Daniel, if you could tell us your own story? You were imprisoned here in the United States for a year as you fought for political asylum?
DANIEL TSE: Yes. So, I came to the United States as a refugee and as an asylum seeker about three years ago, and I’ve been through the system. I’m detained in ICE detention center for over a year. And so, I know what my community members are facing, because I’ve been through it. So I put myself in the frontline now advocating for my community members, because it’s something personal to me.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what happens to the many Cameroonians? And what number do you have on the Cameroonians who have been deported? We just talked about what happens to them when they go — some of them, when they go back to Cameroon. Do they get to apply again? Can they fly back into the United States?
DANIEL TSE: No. We have to be clear here, because, you know, that’s some of a messaging that people would like to put out there, but it’s good that we should understand that. This protection, as established in the statute, is only for those who are here present in the United States as of the date of designation, as of Friday the 15th. So, an estimate of about 40,000 Cameroonians will be offered the opportunity to seek this protection, to live dignified lives under this TPS protection, to prevent them from deportation, to provide for themselves, to have opportunities to give back to the community. So, this is only for Cameroonians who are present in the United States.
As you mentioned, yeah, we are pleading and begging on administration not to deport Cameroonians back to Cameroon due to how outrageous the conditions are. And our recent report in collaboration with Human Rights Watch exposed and documented how a reasonable amount of these Cameroonians who were deported late 2020 were tortured, physically abused and sexually assaulted by state agents and even nonstate agents. Cameroonian authorities targeted the families of these deported people. In several cases, Human Rights Watch even documented how state agents beat, abducted, detained, harassed, just arbitrarily harassed and detained these individuals. So, this is why we’re crying, “Please, don’t deport these people,” because these conditions, the conditions back home, are terrible. But, you know, we stand — you know, our prayers goes out to those people who were deported. We don’t even know if they are still alive today. And so, we’re really pleading that, “Don’t deport these people, because they are going to be treated as such.” So, this protection doesn’t apply to those people, but only for those who are still here, those who are present in the United States as already their destination.
AMY GOODMAN: Ukrainians were granted temporary protected status, what, the 30,000 living in the United States, about a week after Russia invaded. You have been fighting for this for years for Cameroonians. Talk about what they face at home.
DANIEL TSE: So, Cameroon, we’ve been fighting for this for so many years, like you mentioned. Advocates, other advocates have been fighting for as long as six years. The Cameroon Advocacy Network, which was founded last year under the Haitian Bridge Alliance, in partnership with other human rights organizations, was formed specifically as a priority to acquire TPS for Cameroon.
And so, we’ve seen how there is so much violence and human rights violations going on in Cameroon right now. Cameroon is a country in West Africa, for those who don’t know. You know, it’s bilingual, both English and French. And a majority of the country is Francophone — that’s French-speaking — you know, with two regions make up of the Anglophone region. So, in the recent years, there’s been so much conflict, that has impacted several regions. As a result, about over a million people have been internally displaced, while tens of thousands have fled the country.
And so, there is the key — there are some key crises that I would love to highlight, which is the Boko Haram and what we call that Anglophone crisis, which is going on in the Northwest and Southwest regions, which has displaced more than 400,000 people internally only. And there’s so much violence, clash against — you know, clashes between state and separatist — state armed groups and separatist fighters that has — leave the population in complete danger because they are caught in the midst of this crossfire. So there’s just so much violence. And people are being displaced. Armed separatists are killing innocent students and children that are going to school. There’s just gross, gross incommunicado detention, abduction and just political crackdown even from people to speak freely against the government. So there’s just gross, gross human rights violations that’s happening in Cameroon right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Cameroonians, you said, being abused by ICE guards and also being forced to sign consent for deportation papers, Daniel?
DANIEL TSE: So, the immigration system has been noted for so much violence. I think recently there was a video that was leaked of how a Cameroonian migrant was being tortured severely by detention officers. Last year during these deportations that were happening to Cameroon — that were going to Cameroon, we were able to talk to some of the people who were on that flight, how ICE forced them to sign deportation papers. And people were literally forced. Their fingerprints were literally forced and put on these documents. And some of these people were being put in a WRAP stress position, which is a position that is bound you to succumb. And we recently put out a report and a lawsuit that exposes this treatment, which is called the WRAP complaint. And people were being literally forced to sign their deportation. People prefer to —
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
DANIEL TSE: People prefer to remain in detention rather than be deported back to Cameroon. Can you imagine how severe it is? Nobody wants to be in detention. But, you know, ICE really forced people and sent them back to danger. And the report documented how they were being treated.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, and congratulations on your victory for Cameroonians getting temporary protected status. Daniel Tse, co-founder of Cameroon Advocacy Network. I’m Amy Goodman.