Reflections from Immaculate

Immaculate is a native citizen of Uganda and Human Rights First client now living in Los Angeles. She won asylum in 2023 and is now applying for her permanent residence. She hopes to be joined in LA by her son very soon.

As a Black and African migrant, I have faced many hurdles in pursuing asylum in the United States. Working with Human Rights First, I was able to eventually turn things around and be protected with asylum.

In July 2021, life at home in Uganda was getting worse for me. In my home country, I oversaw youth in the Uganda region, assisted in developing youth leadership structures, and advocated for a change of government. I ran on the opposition ticket in the Ugandan elections and won.

In the runup to the election, the current NMR government launched a major crack down on opposition leaders and people who opposed the dictatorship. In this crackdown, most of us were detained, injured, or killed. My mother was killed, and my brother was kidnapped and later tortured to death for their support of the opposition party. I suffered multiple injuries when I was detained including one that almost claimed my eye. To date, I have eye problems because of this.

When I entered the United States at LAX in July 2021 and sought asylum, I was interrogated at the airport for over seven hours. After that, I was taken to a detention center with both of my arms and legs handcuffed as if I were a criminal. I was made to dress in a prisoner uniform and called for my credible fear interview within 48 hours. Fortunately, I passed the interview and expected that I would be released and permitted to apply for asylum. Unfortunately, I was not released at that time.

While at the detention center, I was detained with 18 other Black women from Haiti who did not speak English or Spanish. I saw that Black women, especially those who did not speak English or Spanish, were treated differently. Due to the language barrier, they were not given full opportunities to express their stories. Officers kept hurrying them in their credible fear interviews. Out of the 18, only one passed her interview. Black women from African and Caribbean countries did not have connections to communities in the United States and lacked language access.

I passed my credible fear interview, but I still was not released. When I asked why, the officers stated that they did not believe that I would attend my court hearings were I was released. As far as I could tell, women of other races who passed their interviews were not being held.

As I was 2 months pregnant, I requested to be seen by a doctor. The doctor confirmed that I was pregnant, yet I was still not released. I felt deep sorrow but was undaunted.

Eventually I reached out to Human Rights First, and the lawyers from the organization put pressure on the officials to release me so that I could get proper medical attention.

Because there was an outbreak of COVID in the detention center, the Haitian women I was in detention with were released even later than I was. I do not know if officials kept them locked inside while the center was being disinfected or if they were deported at that time.

Many Black people coming from the Caribbean and Africa are denied their chance to present their asylum claims. My experience in detention underscored that Black people face unequal treatment, especially when there is a language barrier. It was clear to me that many immigration officers believe that most Black asylum seekers do not actually come for protection but are trying to illegally work in the United States. My experience also shows that is far from the truth.

Additionally, immigration officers have a lot of power in deciding the fates of asylum seekers, and their biases and decisions often hurt Black migrants. Most of the officers I saw in the detention center were white or Hispanic; perhaps if there had been Black officers, they could have related to us and better respect us. I thank Human Rights First for standing with me from the time I was in detention through winning my asylum case. to today when I am about to adjust my status as a permanent resident.

Although there are laws and regulations regarding the rights of asylum seekers, they can seem like formalities. Human Rights First keeps them real by fighting for the rights of those who deserve protection.


Published on January 18, 2024


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