Daily Dispatch 11/7/2019: Nebane Abienwi
November 7, 2019
In the last year, nine immigrants have died while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Two have died since the new fiscal year started (which forms the basis of ICE reporting). Both of the men who have died since October 1st this year were seeking asylum: Nebane Abienwi of Cameroon and Roylan Hernandez-Diaz of Cuba. Both would still be alive today if they had been given humanitarian parole and released to await final decisions on their cases. We wrote about Roylan’s case two weeks ago. Nebane Abienwi’s was the subject of an investigative report in USA Today earlier this week.
Nebane Abienwi left Cameroon this summer, flying to Ecuador and then traveling up through Columbia, Central America and Mexico. He arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego and declared his intent to seek asylum. Nebane was 37 years old and a father of six children. According to family members, his goal was to settle in the United States and then bring his family to join him.
Declared inadmissible, Abienwi was placed in custody to await a determination of his asylum claim. From USA Today:
Customs and Border Protection confirmed that Abienwi presented himself at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and was “screened and cleared by medical professionals.”
“CBP makes all efforts to ensure those in our care are treated with humanity and compassion, and this case was no different,” the statement says.
CBP did not confirm whether Abienwi requested asylum. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that handles asylum requests, also refused to confirm whether Abienwi requested asylum, saying the agency “does not release or comment on individual cases.”
The Trump administration has sought to keep asylum-seeking migrants in detention until an immigration judge decides their case. Abienwi did not have a criminal record, according to an ICE summary of his case, but was held in detention as he awaited his day in immigration court.
Abienwi stayed in CBP custody for two weeks until he was turned over to ICE, which is responsible for long-term detention. He was then taken to Otay Mesa Detention Center.
On September 26, Abienwi apparently fell off his bunk, and was found in a confused state. He was eventually sent to Chula Vista Medical Center where it was discovered he was bleeding severely in his brain. The family was contacted on September 30th. At this point Abienwi was on a ventilator. Abienwi’s brother informed officials that the family wanted his brother to remain on life support until someone could come to be with him. However, after declaring that Nebane was brain dead, medical staff took him off life support. His brother, who was trying to get travel documents together to come be with Abienwi was not informed by ICE or medical staff. He found out from a reported who called about the case.
In the days that followed, his brother tried to reach the USA. On Oct. 21, he applied for a visa at the U.S. Embassy in Johannesburg. Akongnwi lives in South Africa, where he has a 5-month-old son and runs a company that fixes, buys and sells cars. After a short interview, he was denied under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which requires people seeking temporary visas to prove they will not remain in the USA.
“Unfortunately, because you either did not demonstrate strong ties outside the United States today, or were not able to demonstrate that your intended activities in the U.S. would be consistent with the visa status, you are ineligible for a nonimmigrant visa,” according to the letter, which Akongnwi shared with USA TODAY.
He said he decided to try again in his native Cameroon. He flew there and applied for a visa Oct. 24. This time, the interview was longer, but Akongnwi said the questions shocked him.
“They asked me, ‘Are you going to apply for asylum like your brother was doing?'” he said. “I could not believe it. I explained why I was going, that I’m running around to see that my brother is put to rest.”
Again, he was denied.
In a statement, the State Department said it could not provide details about specific U.S. visa requests because of confidentiality laws.
Akongnwi said he doesn’t know what else to do. He told his brother’s wife to get a passport so she could try her luck at a visa. He borrowed money to pay for all the traveling he’s doing in his quest to reach his brother’s body.
This case is particularly infuriating. It highlights the utter inhumanity of our immigration policy. Everyone involved in this story is seeking legal pathways to come to this country. Indeed, Abienwi’s family is just trying to confirm his identity and pick up his body, and still they are being denied entry. I have to wonder how we got to this point.
There are 50,000 people in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody today. 12,500 of them have already demonstrated fear of persecution of torture if returned home, but are still awaiting a final determination in courts on asylum – a process that could take months or even years. Trump is demanding they all stay behind bars as they wait and wants more money from Congress to make this happen.
We say no more. Join us on November 13 for a National Call-in Day and other actions aimed at sending a clear message to Congress that ICE and CBP’s budgets should be cut – not expanded for detention.