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A new book shares the experiences of those deported, after decades of living in Ohio

A new book profiles the lives of those who have been deported from Ohio.
Ohio Immigrant Alliance
A new book profiles the lives of those who have been deported from Ohio.

Ibrahima Keita said Ohio felt like home from the start. He first came to the U.S. in 1990, fleeing from persecution in Mali.

In the three decades following, Keita built a life he’s proud of in Cincinnati: he met his wife, had two kids. With his job as a mail courier at a local hospital, they were able to get comfortable. They owned a house, took weekly trips to the mall and even bought a Cadillac.

Everything just opened up for me,” Keita said.

At the time, Keita was applying for asylum. He missed one of his court hearings, waiting for his attorney to arrive. He said he wasn’t aware that he could go into the courtroom without representation. As a result, in 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Keita at his home.

He was detained for a year then deported to Mali.

“I lost everything,” he said. “I’m in American dream, want to buy [a] house for my kids, for a better life. Now, it’s a worse life. Now, my kids [are] suffering.”

Ibrahima Keita said that it's difficult to be a father to his children after deportation.
National Immigrant Justice Center
Ibrahima Keita said that it's difficult to be a father to his children after deportation.

More than a hundred thousand people were deported from the U.S. in the last fiscal year, according to data from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

And while border states by far saw the largest share of removals, it’s happening on a smaller scale in Ohio: 1,000 people in Ohio and Michigan were detained or deported last year.

Even more cases are pending: Ohio has a backlog of 52,000 immigration cases, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

A new book, “Broken Hope: Deportation and the Road Home”, hopes to shed light on what happens to people like Keita after they leave the state. Ohio Immigrant Alliance director Lynn Tramonte, co-authored the book with Suma Setty, a policy analyst with the Center for Law and Social Policy. Together, they collected stories of over 100 Ohioans, like Keita, to understand the social and economic impact of deportation.

“One of the main messages we were hearing from [deported] people was that we want to be seen and heard. We feel invisible. We feel like nobody cares about us,” said Tramonte.

A psychological toll

Defenders of deportation say it’s necessary for public safety and to deter people from entering into the country illegally, especially amid soaring unauthorized immigration and backlogged courts.

The book focuses instead on the individual impact of deportation. Its authors argue that deportation has long-lasting emotional and economic consequences for families. Setty said it can displace people who have become a boon to Ohio communities, and, who are pursuing legal status.

You can be eligible for both the green card and for deportation simultaneously,” Setty said. “That fact, in and of itself, is reflective of how broken our system is.”

Some deportations happen after an immigrant commits a crime. Setty’s book instead highlights those who were deported for other reasons, things like failing to file the correct paperwork or losing an asylum case.

She said when people are separated from their families, their careers and their community, it can leave scars on those left behind – especially children.

“There's harm to them, regardless of whether they stay in the U.S. or accompany their parent to the country that they are deported to. They experience distress. They fall behind in school. They become isolated and withdrawn,” Setty said.

Keita’s two sons experienced depression when he left. Keita said he talks to them everyday, but he said it’s hard to support them, both emotionally and financially. He sends his family money, but still they’ve had to sell their house and move into a small apartment.

“When they arrest me, [my family] take my second son to the hospital because he can’t believe it,” Keita said.

Scared to stay

Some immigrants decide to leave voluntarily to avoid the sort of detention Keita faced. Birane Wane is one of them. He watched many of his neighbors and his own brother get arrested, unable to take their belongings. Without legal citizenship status, he feared being next.

So, in 2018, he left Columbus on his own terms. He couldn’t go back to his home country of Mauritania – where Black people like Wane are persecuted. So, he’s starting over again in Senegal.

“Almost 22 years living all set in one place. Almost half of your life,” he said. “I miss a lot of things. Ohio is my second country.”

He misses visits to the zoo with his kids, the business he ran, the neighborhood he lived in. And last May, Wane missed a funeral. His daughter died in a car accident.

Thousands of miles away, he was unable to say goodbye. It’s a loss he has to carry, far from his family and the community he considers home.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.