More than 370 Nigerians were ordered to leave the United States this year, after being found guilty of breaking immigration laws and other crimes, data from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shows.
Data obtained from the ICE and compiled in a June report by a global tracking website on government policy, TRAC, says 376 Nigerians, who mainly resided in Texas, New Jersey, California, New York and others, were served court orders to leave the U.S. between January and June, having been convicted of immigration and criminal charges.
TRAC is a U.S.-based tracking website that keeps databases of immigration, FBI cases and firearms data for public access.
The data referenced in this story was obtained by TRAC and sourced directly from the ICE through FOI requests.
This comes even as the scramble to flatten the spread of COVID-19 continues with the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration policy on immigrants.
About 3,019 Nigerians were deported from the U.S for criminal convictions in 15 years, starting from ICE’s establishment in 2003 and ending in 2018, a PREMIUM TIMES analysis revealed.
But within the first half of this year, 335 Nigerians violated immigration laws including unlawful entry into the country, overstayed visas, fake documents and many others.
About 41 other Nigerians have criminal records of aggravated felonies such as fraud, drug crimes, sex and firearms offences.
Over time, ‘criminal aliens’ often top the list of priorities when it comes to deportation from the U.S.
This was laid bare more during the Trump administration as the American president vowed to “chase people with criminal records away from our country.”
Once a foreign national is arrested for an offence by the Department of Homeland Security, they are tried before an immigration judge, which is often a lengthy legal process. The individual is most often flagged for deportation. Therefore, a deportation case is filed.
Deportation proceedings are conducted to determine whether the individual charged with violating immigration laws should be removed from the U.S. By removal, it means deportation.
During the proceedings, the individual could appeal the case and the term could be lessened to a voluntary departure but this does not provide for alternate erasure of criminal records.
The individual could be allowed to remain in the country if the judge finds the charges against him or her are not sustained or the government requests that the charges be dropped, as well as where the judge finds the other provisions in the immigration law entitles the individual “relief” from removal.
Between January and June this year, 2,700 deportation cases involving Nigerians were filed with immigration and criminal charges; the outcome of the court proceedings showed that 376 Nigerians were ordered deported.
Nigeria fell behind Cameroon which had the highest figure among the African countries – 647 – and was ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana which had 229 and 175 deportees respectively.
But there are concerns by human rights activists that the U.S. may be brewing another crisis over the rights of the planned deportees who are reportedly kept in detention facilities across the country.
The 376 people are among the 901 Nigerians being held in detention facilities across the U.S., according to the 2019 report by ICE. No report of extradition of these deportees has been made yet.
However, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Human Rights Watch had urged the ICE to halt involuntary transfers of foreign nationals between facilities, and put in place policies at detention centres “that would allow safe social distancing and effective hygiene for as long as detainees remain in custody”.
“The U.S. government should not force deportees to travel so long as it puts them and their communities at heightened risk of COVID-19,” the Human Rights Watch said.
“Despite outbreaks of COVID-19 in U.S., immigration detention centres and government travel restrictions the world over, the U.S. has continued deportations with little regard for the consequences,” the US program director at Human Rights Watch, Nicole Austin-Hillery, said.
“With these reckless deportations, the Trump administration is contributing to the spread of COVID-19 and endangering public health globally.”
Repatriation, new threat?
Aside from the threat of importing COVID-19 into Nigeria, there are fears that the repatriation of the Nigerians could be detrimental to the West African country.
This is because Nigeria has no well-grounded structure for the reintegration of such people into the society, a Nigerian diplomatic analyst said.
“The truth is that the government, who is a major stakeholder in these deportation troubles, is unperturbed and unconcerned. Once deported and profiled, they are left to go on their own,” Gbemisola Lawal said.
“With the rate of unemployment expected to soar and a possible slip into recession after the pandemic, there is little hope for the returnees to start life afresh without having to take to criminal acts again because they may constantly feel dejected,” she adds.
Nigerian government reacts
When asked about the government’s plans as regards the deportation orders on the convicted Nigerians by the U.S. government, an official of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) said he had no comment since “it has not taken place yet.”
This is according to the commission’s spokesperson, Abdul-Rahman Balogun, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES.
“This 376 deportation proceedings outcome you claimed for this year alone, has not taken place. Until then, I can’t say more,” Mr Balogun said.
Attempts to get the reaction of the Nigerian Immigration Service were unsuccessful as calls and messages sent to the spokesperson, Sunday James, were not responded to.
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