Fleeing a civil war shaped by the West, Cameroonians have been met on American shores with hostility, high-risk conditions, and now unconscionable deportation.
When William, a former Cameroonian gendarme, disobeyed an order to kill civilians, he was labeled a turncoat. William, whose name has been changed for his safety, was patrolling in Cameroon’s Southwest region, which Anglophone separatists regard as part of a breakaway state; his decision not to pull the trigger on behalf of the national government carried a death sentence. With his life in imminent danger under President Paul Biya’s authoritarian regime, the soldier had no choice but to flee Cameroon.
Within weeks, William, 33, left behind his wife and two young children and flew to Ecuador via Nigeria. He traveled up through Central America to Mexico, braving mountains and jungles. Finally, in October 2019, he surrendered himself to the United States for asylum at the Laredo border crossing. William fled to “pursue a brighter future,” said his brother-in-law, Daniel, who lives in the United States and whose name has also been changed.
But that isn’t what he found. Instead, William spent 13 months in detention at Jackson Parish Correctional Center in Louisiana, denied asylum and parole. His treatment there was “without a conscience,” Daniel said. In detention amid the coronavirus pandemic, William faced high-risk conditions—minimal access to medical treatment, no social distancing, no personal protective equipment, and no testing—even as his peers contracted COVID-19. And like other Cameroonian asylum-seekers, William was beaten by immigration officers who forced him to sign his own deportation papers.