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Immigration group pleads for help bringing deported relatives back to the U.S.

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Immigration group pleads for help bringing deported relatives back to the U.S.

Jun 11, 2024 | 6:19 pm ET
By Lia Chien
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Immigration group pleads for help bringing deported relatives back to the U.S.
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Omar Toumbou of Maryland speaks at a press conference hosted by the Ohio Immigrant Alliance on the U.S. Capitol grounds Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Photo by Lia Chien/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON – The Ohio Immigrant Alliance spoke Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol and called on members of Congress to bring deported family members back home to the United States.

Present at Tuesday’s press conference were relatives of the deported asking for both Congress and President Joe Biden to reform the American immigration system and allow their loved ones to return, many of whom had lived in the U.S. for decades.

Lynn Tramonte, director of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance, and Suma Setty, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a D.C.-based nonprofit fighting for policy solutions for low-income groups, also launched their new book, “Broken Hope: Deportation and the Road Home,” at the event.

“I just wanted to take a minute to ask you guys to think about what if somebody told you tomorrow, you had to walk away from everybody, and everything that you had built for 20 years?” said Tramonte. “That’s what deportation is. It’s an extreme consequence for a paperwork violation.”

Wafaa Hamdi, an Ohio resident, also spoke to the gathered crowd, flanked by her young niece and nephew at her side.

Her sister, Tina Hamdi, of Dayton, Ohio, was deported in 2017 to Morocco, after serving a drug-related sentence that resulted from an abusive relationship, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center, a nonprofit that advocates for migrants and works with pro bono lawyers.

Tina came to the U.S. when she was 3 years old, and had resided under DACA status — a program for undocumented people brought to the United States as children — until her incarceration. She hasn’t seen her children in eight years, Wafaa Hamdi said.

“There’s a lot of kids, a lot of people in general, that have a loved one that they cannot see and that they used to go to sleep or wake up to every day and they no longer get to,” said Wafaa.

Tina’s son also spoke up. “I’m here because I miss my mom,” he tearfully said.

Longtime simmering issue

Deportation in the U.S. has been a contentious issue and top priority for presidents in recent decades.

Under President Barack Obama, average annual deportations increased by over 26,000 compared to the George W. Bush administration, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University, a data research center.

When former President Donald Trump took office, deportations to Africa increased by 74 percent compared to the Obama administration, according to Tramonte and Setty. Trump also enacted several travel bans from primarily African and Muslim countries during his first year in office.

This year, TRAC found that deportations are up 50% under the Biden administration compared to the Trump administration levels in 2019, according to the publication Border Report. Many of these migrants had crossed the southern border.

Omar Toumbou, a Maryland resident, spoke to the effect historical Western colonization in Africa has had on deportations. Toumbou’s uncle, Abdoulaye Thiaw, was deported to Mauritania.

“Starting here with the will to want things to change will allow us to really start to break down these issues on a larger scale, to really understand what colonialism has truly done to the continent, and how it’s created such a broken, fractured structure to where countries don’t even have stabilization within their own governments,” said Toumbou.

Toumbou pointed to damaging effects of Western colonization, like political and economic instability, as the primary driver of Africans fleeing to the U.S. He said reformed immigration policies must take into account the systemic violence many Africans have fled.

“A lot of these things are a result of decades of neglect and also decades of blatant assault on Africa as a continent,” he said. “We need to change the way that we actually look at the continent as a whole.”

Central process advocated

The National Immigrant Justice Center launched its Chance to Come Home campaign in 2021. Its mission is for the Biden administration to establish a central process through the Department of Homeland Security for deported individuals to apply to return to America.

Biden signed a similar order in 2021 for deported veterans to apply to come back.

Democrats including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Reps. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, Adriano Espaillat of New York and David Trone of Maryland support NIJC’s campaign and urged Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to establish a central system.

Members of the Ohio delegation have also taken steps to protect those from Mauritania from deportation. Over half of Mauritanians coming to Ohio settled in Cincinnati.

In January, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Reps. Mike Carey, Joyce Beatty, and Greg Landsman introduced the TPS for Mauritania Act of 2024 to grant Mauritanians in the U.S. Temporary Protected Status, which allows migrants to stay and work in the United States temporarily. Many other activist organizations called on President Biden last year to halt all deportations to Mauritania.

For now, several issues plague those facing deportation from the U.S.

Demba Ndiath, an Ohioan whose close family member was deported to Mauritania, said language barriers, inadequate translators, and a lack of financial services for legal services make it difficult for people to argue their case to stay.

Tramonte pushed for overall immigration court reform in the U.S. and called for support for NIJC’s Chance to Come Home campaign.

The Ohio Immigrant Alliance also planned to meet with the Ohio congressional delegation to push for immigration justice.

The stories of those far away were top of mind for everyone at Tuesday’s event. Ndiath reminded listeners that they were making a difference for their loved ones.

“I wish they could see everybody who’s here,” he said. “Standing up for them, meeting with members of Congress, advocating for them. I think we’re building hope for them.”