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A West Virginia man held by immigration officials at York County Prison since mid-June was deported last month to his native Sierra Leone, which he fled in 1999 to escape civil war, according to his lawyer.

Mamadu Balde, 44, is more than 4,000 miles away from his wife in Charleston, West Virginia, and the nieces and nephew he supports financially, after he was flown out of the United States on Sept. 20 to Freetown, Sierra Leone, attorney Witold Walczak said Monday, Oct. 16.

Walczak, who is the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, called Balde’s deportation just one example of President Donald Trump’s “heartless and ruthless” attitude toward immigrants.

“The Trump administration has said from the first week (that) anybody who is out of status for any reason is subject to deportation, and they’re making good on that threat,” Walczak said. 

Because Balde entered the U.S. illegally in 1999 after fleeing civil war in Sierra Leone, the U.S. government is within its rights to deport Balde, Walczak said.

Previous administrations, however, “likely would have exercised discretion” when deciding whether to deport a productive, taxpaying husband who is a “not a danger or threat, but a benefit to the community,” Walczak said.

“But this administration is both heartless and ruthless in deporting anybody they can, regardless of individual circumstances,” Walczak said.

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With Trump creating the country’s immigration agenda for at least the next three years, Walczak said he doesn’t expect much to change in the federal government’s attitude toward immigrants.

“This is an administration that came into office largely by demagoguing immigrants, so I don’t believe they will change their ruthless ways,” Walczak said. 

Broken family: Balde faced deportation for the past five years, first being locked up and ordered to be removed from the U.S. in 2012. 

Beginning in 2012, Sierra Leone officials repeatedly refused to allow Balde into the country. As recently as June 23, they made it clear the Department of Homeland Security would not be able to deport Balde in the near future, Walczak said.

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After being locked up again in June, Balde filed a lawsuit against federal immigration officials and York County Prison Warden Clair Doll seeking his release until they could guarantee Balde would be deported.

Sierra Leone officials refused on multiple occasions to issue travel documents because they could not confirm Balde’s citizenship.

But that changed in August, after the State Department threatened visa sanctions against Sierra Leone and three other countries if they did not accept deportees from the United States, Walczak said.

“It appears that diplomatic pressure forced Sierra Leone to take Balde back,” Walczak said.

Despite immigration officials enforcing immigration laws, Walczak said he struggles to see how Balde’s deportation represents justice for anyone.

“It’s hard to see how you can use the word justice in this situation. This is a guy whose family was killed in Sierra Leone, fled to this county and has no family back there,” Walczak said. By deporting Balde, “not only do you send him back, but you break up a loving family in this country.”

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