The Enduring Harm of U.S. Deportations

Deportations to African and Muslim-majority nations, which skyrocketed during the Trump administration, continue to disproportionately harm Black immigrants who built their lives in the U.S.

Deportations to African and Muslim-majority nations, which skyrocketed during the Trump administration, continue to disproportionately harm Black immigrants who built their lives in the U.S.

A Tuesday, January 30 briefing held by the Ohio Immigrant Alliance (OHIA) and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) highlighted Broken Hope: Deportation and the Road Home — a new book featuring interviews with 255 deported long-term U.S. resident immigrants — as the book’s authors and some of the immigrants interviewed discussed the lasting effects of deportation.

Who was deported?

OHIA organizer Maryam Sy conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with deportees, the vast majority of which were Black Muslim men from African countries who had lived in the U.S. for at least a decade — and for a median of 17 years. 110 had relatives in the U.S., 73 had a child there and nine were married to U.S. citizens.

The vast majority were also deported or left during the Trump administration. At least 126 were formally deported; 124 were ordered deported by a U.S. immigration judge and left before they could be detained in immigration jail and lose control over where they were sent.

21 people were deported to countries with a U.S. Travel Advisory of “Level 4: Do Not Travel,” and 45 to countries with “Level 3: Reconsider Travel.”

Saidu Sow, one of the immigrants interviewed in Broken Hope, discusses life after deportation, as his wife and daughter visit him in Mauritania.

Since the Biden administration took office, seven have returned to the U.S. legally, and at least one returnee got a green card. One individual got asylum in France, while two got legal status in Canada.

Four deportees died, far from their home and family. The rest of those interviewed are still fighting to reunite with their families while trying to stay safe in their countries of origin.

Many of these people “went through the hardest part of their life when they were deported,” Sy said. “They came to America to seek asylum for a better life … and it was like the government broke their hope.”

Deportation trends

Far from being unique to the present moment, forced removal undergirds U.S. history as far back as the advent of slavery in the 17th century and the Black Codes restricting the movement of African Americans in the 19th century, said OHIA Director and Broken Hope co-author Lynn Tramonte.

In more recent years, average annual deportations were actually higher under the Obama administration than under Trump, said CLASP Senior Policy Analyst and book co-author Suma Setty.

Under Trump from 2017 to 2020, the Department of Homeland Security reported 2 million deportations. Under Obama from 2009 to 2012, there were 3.2 million.

However, this was still the lowest total and annual average since the mid-1970s. In comparison, over 10 million were deported during the prior George W. Bush administration, and over 12 million during the Clinton administration before that.

What is new since the Trump administration “are huge disparities based on countries of origin,” said Setty.

From the Obama to the Trump administration, deportations to African countries increased by 74%; those to Caribbean countries by 40%; and those to Muslim-majority countries by 38%.

Goura Ndiaye shares his story, as highlighted in Broken Hope, of being deported to Mauritania away from his family after nearly twenty years in the U.S.

“A collection of 250-plus stories by people who have endured this separation from their families and communities is unprecedented,” said Setty. “The little research literature that does contain a few stories focuses primarily on the southern border … but we have to make sure Black immigrants don’t get left behind. And why are they? Because the federal government is investing in detention and deportation rather than legal pathways for people to return and stay here.”

Deportation stories

“I think deportation like this is a mistake,” said Goura Ndiaye, who in 2019 was deported to Mauritania, a country where slavery is still common.

He and other deportees shared their stories through prerecorded videos and transcribed statements, as internet is often unreliable in many of their countries of origin.

An electrician businessowner and father of three U.S. citizen children from Columbus, Ohio, Ndiaye was scheduled for a hip replacement surgery a few days after a seemingly routine meeting with ICE ended with his arrest.

He received no medical treatment in immigration jail beyond aspirin. ICE agents later told him they were taking him to a medical appointment, but instead took him to the airport for deportation — by which time his hip had detached from his body.

Although his family had worked themselves up into the middle class, Ndiaye said his deportation forced them into food and housing insecurity, poverty and depression, and his daughter and stepdaughter had to work while attending school.

“It’s not easy to be in a country for almost twenty years and build your life and one day, it stops,” he said. “It’s a long way to get experience in another country. To learn English. To go to school at nighttime. To learn. Go to work. Get the experience. And then one day they say ‘Stop. You don’t have it any more, you have to leave.’ The day ICE told me that was the end of the world for me.”

Demba Jobe discusses his experience of being deported and separated from his wife and step-children after traveling back to The Gambia for a relative’s funeral. Although he had received advance permission to re-enter the U.S., border officials refused to let him in.

“The way things are working in the U.S., I think it’s not going to be possible for me to return, because they lie about everything against me,” added Demba Jobe, who was deported to The Gambia after traveling to the U.S. on a G-2 visa several times in the 2010s for training at the World Bank — where he fell in love with and married his colleague Georgina, a U.S. citizen.

When his brother died, Jobe applied for and received U.S. “advance parole” (permission to return) before going to Gambia. Upon his return through Chicago O’Hare International Airport, however, ICE officers detained him. After refusing to sign a paper allowing them to deport him immediately, he spent nine months in immigration jail, after which he was deported.

He requested and was denied an interpreter in court, which he attended in jail through a video feed, having to defend himself against accusations that his marriage was fraudulent, Jobe said — highlighting the irony that under the U.S. immigration system he could not receive humanitarian parole, yet could be deported while being eligible for a green card and being married to a U.S. citizen with two children.

Since his deportation, he added, his wife endured three back surgeries, downsized her apartment and changed jobs as a result of her still-restricted physical mobility.

“I had built a family,” said Jobe. “I love my wife and children and want to continue the life we had because they need me, and I need them. But about returning, I don’t have anything to say because they don’t give me the chance.”