Attorneys Say Cincinnati Residents from Mauritania Face Slavery if Deported

At least three men who have lived in Cincinnati for more than a decade face deportation by ICE to Mauritania, where they have no rights and could be made slaves, according to human rights groups.

click to enlarge Issa Sao and his family - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Issa Sao and his family

Greater Cincinnati residents who fled oppression in their native country of Mauritania are at risk of being deported by the U.S. government back to that country, attorneys and advocates said in a news conference call yesterday. Ohio has the largest population in the country of black Mauritanians, who face slavery, torture and lack of basic citizenship and civil rights in their home country, according to CIA and State Department reports.

Mauritania officially outlawed slavery in 1981 — the last country on earth to do so — but human rights experts and U.S. officials say laws against slavery and racial violence are often not enforced. 

Oumar Thiam and Issa Sao, both greater Cincinnati residents, could face deportation as early as next week after they were arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials recently. Thiam, who lives in Kennedy Heights, has been in the United States for 18 years and has been working jobs under a work permit. Sao, who lives in Forest Park, has been in the U.S. for 14 years, is married to a U.S. citizen and has two U.S.-born children. He applied for asylum, but that application was denied in 2004. Yesterday, the Board of Immigration Appeals issued an emergency stay for Thiam’s deportation — but he remains in custody and could still be flown out of the country soon. It is unclear if a similar application for an emergency stay will be granted in Sao’s case.

“He was arrested while checking in with ICE agents as he has been faithfully doing for years,” Thiam’s attorney Patricia Y. Hernandez said in a statement yesterday. “He’s lived peacefully and productively in Ohio for approximately 18 years and now, for no good reason, he is in detention. He will be killed if he is deported to Mauritania. He said this to me multiple times, and I believe him.”

The situation is similar to that faced by another Lockland man from Mauritania, Amadou Sow, who was recently arrested by ICE and faces deportation. The Cincinnati Enquirer profiled Sow earlier this week.

Greater Cincinnati is home to roughly 3,000 people from Mauritania, civil rights advocates say — among the highest concentration in the nation. U.S. officials last year deported about 80 Mauritanians.

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