Welcoming Mauritanians to Bell

Welcoming Asylum Seekers from Mauritania to Grace Lutheran Church  

Pastor Maria’s Grace Lutheran Church in Bell is an island of welcome in a sea of uncertainty, currently housing more than 40 asylum seekers who might otherwise find themselves sleeping on the street. 

For more than six years, she has made spaces in her church habitable and has welcomed people in need of a place to stay.  Even during the COVID pandemic, she did not turn away those in need, providing them with masks and sanitizer, combining social distancing with emotional support. 

Asylum seekers have arrived in Bell from countries in Central and South America, Mexico, and for the last few months a group of 19 Mauritanians released with CLUE’s support from Adelanto Detention Center.

While their origins and languages may differ, Pastor Maria’s guests share a common journey that began with fleeing persecution in their home countries and continued on the road northward to the Mexico-US border, crossing the Rio Grande into the United States.  Most have spent time in a detention center before ultimately being released to wait out the complicated and very slow legal process to determine their fate. 

CLUE in partnership with an extensive group of organizations including the Haitian Bridge Alliance, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, ACLU of Southern California, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, African Coalition, Mauritanian Network for Human Rights, AVAN Immigrant Services and Public Counsel, has been engaged in a persistent campaign to release migrants from Adelanto.

The partners have advocated for the release of detainees and for the facility’s closure due to unhealthy conditions and inhumane treatment. 

After many months of advocacy, ICE officials agreed to release these Mauritanian detainees to CLUE, provided that a place for them to live would be identified. Pastor Maria stepped up to accept them, and the 19 young men were released in three groups beginning last September. For now, the basement of Grace Lutheran Church has become their temporary home. 

Their journey 

The Mauritanian residents of Grace Lutheran met each other in Adelanto, although they all left for the same reasons: violent racism and discrimination.

Mauritania has a deep-rooted history of slavery and oppression of the black population by the lighter-skin Berbers. Slavery was only outlawed in 1980, with black families passed down as property from generation to generation of “masters” and women facing sexual abuse in a relentless hierarchy. 

Despite being banned, there have been many documented reports of continued enslavement, and NGOs continue to work to free people from horrifying circumstances. 

On February 9, 2023, a 38-year-old human rights activist was murdered in police custody.

In a national moment not unlike the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, activists launched days of protest rallies, demanding accountability.  While some charges were brought, young black Mauritanians found themselves targeted and endangered, subject to random police abuse with no justice.  

For those who organized or participated in these rallies, life became exponentially more dangerous. 

A couple of their stories 

Ibrahim, a 23-year-old university graduate, was a human rights activist in Mauritania, who became an organizer of these protest rallies. 

Fearing for his life after a police crackdown, his father bought him a plane ticket to Nicaragua.  From there, he moved northward through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, ultimately crossing the border in Arizona and requesting asylum. 

After 12 days in a detention center in Arizona, ICE moved him to Adelanto, where he spent two months until CLUE secured his release. 

Abdul (27) was a student of Koran. He had friends that were killed by the police and joined the anti-racism protests.

Police were aware of his participation, and fearing for his life he, too, flew to Nicaragua, making his way to the Mexico-US border in 17 days. 

Requesting asylum, he was detained for 8 days in Arizona and then transferred to Adelanto.  He was in the first group of 10 Mauritanian asylum seekers released with the support of CLUE and Pastor Maria. 

More of the unique stories of this group and Pastor Maria’s ministry was recorded in this recent LAist broadcast.  https://laist.com/news/mauritanian-asylum-seekers-find-home-latino-church-bell  

These 19 new Angelenos are anxious to become self-sufficient and contribute to their new community in the United States.