Lee Samuels: “Moses’ Odyssey”

Moses, a gentle man, is a man of faith, and desires to live his life in peace

In July I attended an evening vigil at the Adelanto, CA ICE facility. Approaching {Faith Organizer} Hilda Cruz, I stated my interest in becoming an advocate for a person detained inside the Adelanto {immigrant detention}. Following a formal (Department of Homeland Security -DHS- Immigration and Customs Enforcement –ICE-) indoctrination and advocate’s training workshop, hosted by Hilda and several other women representing regional immigrant’s rights advocacy groups, I was given a detainee’s name and his ICE identification number.

Moses is a Human Being. {We will only refer to him as Moses to protect his identity until his asylum process is completed}.
As of August 6, 2019, Moses, who is seeking his US Constitutional Right to receive an asylum hearing, is incarcerated at the Adelanto GEO / ICE for profit prison {immigrant detention center}.

Moses is a political refugee who began his three-month odyssey to the US when he hastily departed the English speaking southwest region of Cameroon last October. Moses, a soft-spoken man, of medium height and build, spoke his story in English laced with a heavy Cameroonian accent.

Moses said: Cameroon has been embroiled in civil strife since the 1970s. Armed conflict erupted in (and has continued unabated since) 2016 during which brutal reprisals against the English speaking minority became commonplace as Anglophones engaged in separatist movements. Moses and the region’s English speaking population represent a sizable minority while the majority French speaking Cameroonians exercise control of all governing bodies and the nation’s military.

Moses, a 49 year-old farmer, was active in the Anglophone resistance to French rule. During one French counterstroke, his father, who refused to reveal Moses’s whereabouts, was murdered. (Although quite some time has lapsed between phone conversations, Moses believes his two brothers, two sisters, and an uncle, who remain in the Cameroon, are safe). For distributing explanatory leaflets and discussing independence with Anglophones, Moses was twice imprisoned, denied his Cameroonian constitutional rights, brutally tortured, and his family was forced to pay police and government officials money (bribes) for his release. Following his second “release” Moses was told by authorities to leave the country immediately or die.

English speaking Cameroonians seeking asylum, who at one time were welcomed by Nigerians at their frontier, are promptly turned over by the Nigerian immigration officials to the Cameroonian military. With no country to turn to, Moses “left my family, my farm, left my animals and escaped with [my] life.”

From Cameroon, Moses was permitted to enter Ecuador, as an Ecuadorian visa was not required for entry by Cameroonian nationals. Throughout Moses’s travels, food and water were scarce commodities and personal safety was always of paramount concern. Along with citizens of various African nations, he endured a treacherous journey through Central America (sleeping on the jungle floor where ranged venomous snakes and large predators, including humans…Moses was robbed of his passport, money, and possessions in Panama’s jungle) and Mexico before arriving in Tijuana. Asylum seeking Indian nationals paid for Moses’s food, water, and transportation (from Panama to Tijuana).

In Tijuana, Moses received an entry number then waited near the border a month before his number was called. Upon entering the US, Moses completed a Department of Homeland Security Credible Fear Statement during an interview. He was then detained, incarcerated, and brought to the Adelanto facility.

After six months as a detainee, I am Moses’s third advocate. Prior to my first visit, late the afternoon visit of August 6, I was not allowed to carry any object into the meeting area. After I secured my belongings in a small locker, I passed through an airport style TSA Skyscanner (“X-ray machine) and was led to the visitation room. Moses was dressed in blue colored short sleeved shirt with loose fitting pants and he wore sneakers. During the visit, we sat across from one another at a circular table – within listening distance and under the constant supervision of an ICE officer. Neither Moses nor I were allowed pen and paper. On a post-it note, an ICE officer transcribed a phone number for a Cameroonian friend living in Maryland. When my visit was over I retrieved that post-it from the officer’s desk before exiting the visitation room. That evening, I transcribed this document from memory just as Moses described his ordeal from memory.

On the evening of August 6th, I phoned Moses’s Cameroonian friend who was ecstatic to hear Moses was well.

I have met with Moses on several occasions prior to his final asylum hearing (September 30, 2019). Along with other ICE detainees, Moses watches US news, soccer, basketball (Pascal Siakam, a Cameroonian, plays power forward for the Toronto Raptors), and wonders why so much violence is tolerated in (American) football. Along with other African detainees, he works in the kitchen and is able to play soccer once a week. During each visit, we discuss current events, his health, various aspects of American life, both of our families, his Cameroonian friends living in the U.S., food he’d enjoy sampling (ICE menu choices are quite limited), more sports, and hope.

Moses, a gentle man, is a man of faith, and desires to live his life in peace.

Moses is grateful that he is alive and, though currently residing as a refugee prisoner seeking asylum, is among the most positive of men I’ve ever met.

On each occasion of my departure following our visits, Moses thanked and blessed me, holding his hand over his heart. I have been touched and altered forever by this most gracious man.

I attended Moses’s court hearing at the ICE facility on September 30th. Following an intensely heart-rending oratory of his personal trauma, and without any Federal government objection, Moses was granted his conditional freedom…asylum. Following the issuance of Moses’s asylum, he stated for the record, I am thankful to be in America, where I believe people are treated fairly. I will become a productive member of the American society and not be a burden for America. I will be honest with all people, obey all laws, and respect Americans and learn [and adapt] my new country’s customs and ways. I want to become an American [Naturalized Citizen] and will take courses to [insure] my learning. I am a blessed man and God bless the United States of America.

That evening, following our In-n-Out hamburger dinner and a Krispy Kreme donut for dessert, Moses boarded Amtrak train #4, The Southwest Chief, at Victorville’s D Street rail platform. On Thursday evening, as Anne and I celebrated her birthday, I received a phone call from Moses. I am safe, free and with my Cameroonian [expats] in a community located near “our” nation’s capital [Washington D.C.].

Moses is a free human being.

This account was written by Lee Samuels, a retired high school teacher and now an advocate for detained immigrants seeking asylum. {The picture of both, Lee and Moses enjoying a doughnut after his release was made fuzzy on purpose.}