Amadou Sow, 49, a Mauritanian national, stands in the doorway of his apartment in Lockland, where his family has lived for 13 years. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested him Aug. 22 but inexplicably released him July 12 after almost 11 months in detention. (Photo: Albert Cesare / The Enquirer)
LOCKLAND – Three-year-old Muhammad heard the knock on the apartment door shortly after midnight this past Saturday morning but could not unlock it.
The child heard a familiar voice coming from outside, one he’d heard only on the phone for the previous 11 months.
“I tell him, ‘Muhammed, it’s Daddy.’ He said Mommy was asleep,” Amadou Sow said Monday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had arrested Sow during a regular appointment Aug. 22 in Columbus but – after shuffling him through four other states and three Ohio prisons – inexplicably released him without advance notice on Friday.
Sow, 49, had lived peacefully in the United States since 1991, receiving annual work permits from the federal government, paying taxes, building a career and caring for his wife and five U.S. citizen children.
Yet he, like several hundred other Mauritanian nationals, were caught in a 180-degree policy shift under the Trump administration and threatened with deportation back to the world’s most notorious slave state in northwest Africa. They’d been among the lowest removal priorities under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations because they posed little or no threat to national security, worked, paid taxes and were understood to be at grave risk if returned to Mauritania.
Sow’s unexpected release comes at a time of renewed tension inside Mauritania. Human rights activists say a sham election June 22 kept the lighter-skinned Arab Maghreb ruling class in power. The results led to demonstrations by Afro-Mauritanians, a class of stateless and often-enslaved people to which Sow belongs, and a violent response by Mauritanian military and police.
The government shut down the internet the day after election, Amnesty International reports.
Several dozen Mauritanian-Americans and their advocates and allies held a march Monday in Downtown Cincinnati to protest the repression of black Africans there and called on U.S. sanctions against Mauritania.
Ibrahima Guisset chants “What do we want?” The crowd yells, “Justice.” Members of the Mauritanian-American community and supporters march Monday through Downtown to protest what they say are human rights violations against Afro-Mauritanians in the northwest African nation. (Photo: Cara Owsley/The Enquirer)
At the same time, Sow and his family were enjoying a victory – quite possibly a temporary one – in their highly personal struggle. Sow has to return Wednesday, July 17, for another check-in appointment at the ICE office in Columbus, the same one from which he was detained in August.
“I do not know what will happen,” he said.
ICE released Sow after a routine review of his detention, said his attorney, Alexandria Lubans-Otto.
ICE officials in its Detroit regional office could not immediately provide an explanation.