CINCINNATI -- Without a last-minute stay from a federal judge, two men who have lived in Greater Cincinnati for decades will soon be deported back to Mauritania, a West African nation where slavery remains widespread and "blasphemous speech" is punishable by death.
Amandou Sow and Mody Sou-Mare were both in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody Thursday evening. Sow, whose wife and five children live in Cincinnati, refused to board a plane back to Mauritania on Wednesday.
"Everybody here, they work hard and pay taxes," Sow's brother-in-law, Abraham Sy, said. "He takes care of his family, and they come here, grab him (for) no reason."
Greater Cincinnati sports one of the United States' largest communities of Mauritanian migrants, most of whom fled poverty, slavery and political persecution in their home country -- some of whom illegally came to or remained in the United States. The history of Mauritania is riven with caste-based strife between black Mauritanians such as Sow, whose skin marks them as members of a subjugated underclass, and the lighter-skinned Mauritanians who continue to buy and sell them despite the nominal passage of anti-slavery laws.
According to the CIA World Facebook, around 20 percent of black Mauritanians still live in slavery, and slave status is passed from mother to child. Even those who are not born into slavery face a significant risk of being press-ganged into forced labor or abducted by sex traffickers. Anti-slavery activists can be tortured and indefinitely detained; women who report being raped can be prosecuted for having extramarital sex.
Sy doesn't want his brother-in-law to be forced back into the country, he said. He also doesn't want his sister and nieces to be left without their family's primary breadwinner.
"Where he comes from is worse than everything," Sy said. "I will keep fighting until the end."