The Great Shutdown didn’t slow the Trump Administration’s disdain for “shithole countries.” Specifically, while nearly a million federal employees worked without pay or were furloughed, the administration paid an estimated $148,000 to deport as few as two African refugees.
“Most Mauritanians in the United States arrived here seeking refuge from government-led racial and ethnic persecution and extreme violence,” dozens of Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Departments of Homeland Security and State. “For the following two decades, our government declined to deport Mauritanians because of the dangerous and potentially life-threatening conditions they would face if they were returned to their country of origin.”
That includes slavery.
Mauritania was the last country on Earth to outlaw slavery, and even still one in five Mauritanians is enslaved. Half of Mautirania’s Haratin population lives as slaves. The population of Mauritanians that lives in Ohio escaped ethnic cleansing in the 1990s.
Because they weren’t skilled with English, those African refugees were scammed by people claiming to help them get legal status, and thusly lived for nearly thirty years in America without formal protection. Even after a judge ordered their removal, ICE — seemingly tacitly acknowledging their situation — just never made the Mauritanians a priority.
The Atlantic has argued that Trump radicalized ICE — or at the very least, given them unprecedented power and political cover. ICE even works with Amazon. This extraordinary political situation coincides with the end of that tacit acknowledgement that the Mauritanians face death upon deportation.
And, it must be acknowledged, the understanding that these refugees come from a place the president declared to be a “shithole,” a place he expressed a desire to see fewer refugees from if not by name then by region.
“The deportation of individuals back to an environment where they risk possible enslavement shows disdain for their human dignity and basic human rights and a complete violation of international law that flies in the face of decades of US traditions,” said Adotei Akwei, Amnesty international USA’s Deputy Director of Advocacy and Government Relations.
And to an extent, the Trump administration has acknowledged this. It rewrote the trade deal between the United States and Mauritania to punish the west African nation’s continued practice of slavery. Trump personally pledged to put slavers out of business and rescue every victim.
“We’re just scared,” said Mauritanian refugee Amadou Sow. “As soon as I get there I believe something is going to happen. I don’t know what. I might be in jail. I might be killed.”
For a record-setting 35 days the United States wasn’t paying ICE agents, but was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to send ICE detainees to their possible death or enslavement in Mauritania. According to NBC News, an October charter ICE flight to Mauritania took 19 hours one-way, costing nearly $8,000/hour. This means that a deportation flight to and from Mauritania costs as much as $300,000. All while air traffic controllers were working without pay.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.