- Detainees and immigration lawyers say there is a disturbing and overlooked problem of anti-Black racism in immigration detention.
- The criminalization of immigration has meant that migrants and asylum seekers are placed in a system with a long history of mistreatment.
In the winter of 2020, Brandon was playing the FIFA 2020 video game in the rec room of the LaSalle Correctional Center in Louisiana, where he had been locked up for five months.
A Salvadoran man, watching the action over Brandon’s shoulder, started joking around, covering Brandon’s eyes and distracting him from the game. “It was annoying,” said Brandon, an asylum seeker from Cameroon. He lifted up his hand to mock punch the Salvadoran. The horseplay never escalated into anything serious, and, after a little while, the Salvadoran left Brandon alone and he finished his game. He lost, 2–1.
What neither of them realized was that the mock punch had been caught on LaSalle’s video monitors. A few minutes later, guards entered the rec room and approached Brandon. They told him he was being transferred to a new dorm – which meant away from fellow Cameroonians and the other Africans he had befriended. Brandon asked to stay where he was. Being with other Cameroonians was a lifeline for him in detention. “I felt like family with them,” he said. Calmly, he continued trying to explain himself. “I never even raised my voice,” he said.
In a video obtained by Insider, Brandon is seen walking down a hallway and being followed by three guards. As he approaches the camera, one of the guards grabs him by the shoulder and pushes him against the wall. In the next few seconds, they ram his head into the wall, put him in a chokehold, spin him around, throw him to the floor, and pin him down. One of the guards briefly puts his knee on Brandon’s neck. With the guards dog-piled on top of him, he felt like he was fighting to survive: “I was struggling to breathe. I couldn’t move. I was feeling so weak.”
Six guards from the LaSalle Detention Center, which is privately run by LaSalle Corrections, kept Brandon pinned to the floor as one of them slapped handcuffs on him. They then yanked him to his feet and pushed him back against the wall. “Why are you treating me like I’m not a human being?” Brandon recalled asking them.
After the guards tackled him, Brandon was thrown into a solitary confinement cell, where he remained for three days.
Brandon suspected bias was at work when the guard shoved him against the wall. “He was doing it because I was Black and from Africa,” Brandon said.
LaSalle Corrections did not respond to repeated requests for comment. ICE spokesperson Sarah Loicano also declined to discuss the specifics of Brandon’s case but commented: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not tolerate the mistreatment of anyone in the agency’s custody and takes all allegations of abuse seriously,” Loicano said. “Allegations of misconduct by ICE employees or contractors are reported to ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and are reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG).”
Months later, after two transfers, Brandon was finally released from detention and allowed to continue pressing his asylum case while out on bond.
When he opened his package of personal effects, he was surprised to find an unlabeled CD tucked in with the clothes he’d been wearing when he was first taken into custody. It took him a few weeks to find a player, but when he finally did he discovered it was a video of the guards tackling him. He has no idea who had slipped the CD into his things, or why.
Less food, longer stays in solitary
Brandon was born in Cameroon, a country in West Africa that, since 2016, has been locked in a bloody civil war between the ruling Francophone party and separatist Anglophones. The government’s crackdown, including extrajudicial killings, has led to charges of genocide. At age 26, he fled the country after his mother was killed by government agents, and he was subsequently targeted. “They tried to extinguish my life,” he said. “But I never participated in anything like politics.”
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