Amdi spent a year and a half in the United States, entirely behind bars

Photo Credit: Tina Shull

Asylum seekers from all over the world can spend months to years languishing in US immigrant prisons while pursuing their cases and even after receiving final orders of removal. This year, the UN has urged the United States to halt the “punitive, unreasonably long, and costly” practice of immigration detention. But it is the Trump administration’s goal to expand the detention system, halve refugee admissions, and curb all immigration even further in coming years. Meanwhile, war, growing inequality, and climate change continue to spur a global refugee crisis.

Amdi was detained during the Obama administration, from July of 2015 to November of 2016 when he was deported along with 107 other Ghanaians and Liberians. He wrote and mailed this testimony from the Theo Lacy Jail in California to CIVIC in September of 2016:

My Real Story

My name is Amdi. I was born in Accra, Ghana in 1993. I am presently detained and have been in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange County, CA, since July 17, 2015. I hereby write all statements, by my personal knowledge, to tell the truth and the whole truth…nothing but the truth. I hope that my case will be determined and may qualify me for asylum.

I was an electrical engineering student in my country. I dropped out of school and ran out of my country due to severe suffering, pain and challenges… I was afraid to lose my life. My life is important. The main reason I ran from my country to seek asylum in the United States was because I feared I would be killed or hurt by my uncle, as he did to my mother, because of the house property that my late father left for us (my little brother and me).

My father died in 2005. I was 11 years old. After my father’s death, my uncle wanted to take over his property by force, but the house belonged to us. At that time, my mother was alive and suspected what my uncle was trying to do. This became a quarrel between my mother and my uncle. My uncle used local medicine to make her ill. We took her to the hospital, but they weren’t able to identify her illness. They didn’t know why she was crying for her stomach and growing lean, which was causing her severe suffering.

We took her to a man in our village who treated with local voodoo medicine. The man checked her illness and told us that our uncle was trying to kill her and take our property. The man tried his best to treat her with local medicine, but unfortunately she couldn’t make it. She died.

Honestly, I cried and cried — I always cry when I think about my mother. She was hope and support in my life. After my mother’s death, my uncle took control of the house. He mistreated me and threatened to kill me three times.

He made the first threat at a time when I could no longer pay for my school fees. I went to my uncle and told him I needed money to take care of my studies. I wasn’t a small boy anymore — I couldn’t struggle to pay my school fees while he took rent from my property and I didn’t earn anything. He attacked me for telling him the truth. He attacked me and beat me up, saying that he would kill me like my mother. I shouted for help. People came to help me.

I reported him to the community leader (because anything concerning land is handled by the community chief). After I reported him, the chief called him and warned him to stay away from the house — that my father’s property belonged to me. After that, he became angry and threatened me… he tried to do something bad to me. I was afraid for my life, because I knew he was a very dangerous man. He started threatening me to give him the house documents. I refused, so he told the community leader I wanted to sell the house. I don’t know what he told or did to the community leader, but he called me and told me to give the documents to my uncle.

My uncle attacked me in the house badly. He told me he would do the same thing to me that he did to my mother. After that, he made me so ill I almost died. I was afraid for my life, so I gave him the house documents. I thought this would set me free, but it only became worse. I was very sick.

I know my uncle intended to kill me by making me ill — and I knew the police would not protect me.

I was taken to the village — to the old man who treated my mother before she died. The man helped me with treatments and told me to leave the country because my uncle was a very dangerous man who wanted to kill me and take my property. My life was in danger. He told me that my uncle had buried traditional local voodoo medicine on the land to make me so ill I would die. He did the same when he killed my mother. Traveling wasn’t my intention because I was in school, but due to these problems I had to run to save my life.

I tried to organize my money. It was almost time for the World Cup in Brazil, and my friend helped me get a Brazilian visa. I managed to fly to Brazil on June 20, 2014. When I got to Brazil, all of my sickness stopped at once. Until that day I had never experienced what I was facing in my own country, so it made me fear that I would be hurt or killed when I returned to my country. My uncle and his voodoo group were very dangerous.

Looking at human rights reports can tell much about the situation in my country, Ghana. These are some of the main problems we are facing in my country, and the reasons I did not report my case to the police:

  1. The police don’t tend to problems related to my people being killed with local voodoo medicine or threats with local voodoo music.
  2. The police in my country are unprofessional in handling cases of misconduct.
  3. The police arrest citizens in exchange for bribes.
  4. Police brutality, corruption, and negligence are problems in Ghana.
  5. The police collaborate with criminals.
  6. The police are setting up illegal checkpoints and collecting driver’s money (acting as private debt collection).
  7. On occasion, the police demand money from suspects as precondition for their release on bail.
  8. The police demand money before they offer protection.
  9. Rituals, traditional local medicine and shrine gods are being advertised on TV media stations without any legal permits. Some claim they have license for ritual killings and advertise on TV… that anyone who needs money or any bad ritual or traditional local medicine should locate them.
  10. Many people have been driven to madness due to family property, and others are also being killed by voodoo… this makes me fear much for my life.
  11. Others are also fighting over property.
  12. Most killings concerning property are by physical, spiritual, or ritual killings in Ghana.

I flew from Ghana to Brazil. I worked for 10 months to save money in Brazil, because I was short on money and was not given a work permit. This is common protocol. Life in Brazil wasn’t safe for me, and was also not my destination.

I was running to the United States because I knew I could only stay happy and feel safe in the United States.

I managed all the way through Ecuador. I was robbed by thieves in Colombia. I lost $400, my Brazilian documents, and my Ghana passport. I managed to push through the Caribbean Sea to the jungle of Panama with nine Ghanaians I met on the way.

We spent four days in the jungle of Panama. When we got to Panama, we handed ourselves over to Panama immigration. They took our information, detained us for five days and released us to continue on our journey… to Costa Rica, to Honduras, to Guatemala, to Mexico, to the United States to seek asylum — the only country I can rely on to help me and save my life because my life was in danger in my country. I did not enter for any wrong reason. I turned myself in at the border. I am a simple asylum seeker.

When I first came I was placed in detention and given a credible fear interview, and later given a parole advisory. I was denied because ICE said they could not certify my documents. I came with my birth certificate, my student ID cards and school certificates.

I was referred to an immigration judge. I fought for my case for almost six months without the proof they wanted and without an attorney. It was very tough for me fighting my case in detention because I never knew I would come across this situation. I was ultimately issued a removal order on January 11, 2016. It is now nearing nine months since the order became final, as I did not appeal the decision.

ICE has been unable to acquire a travel document for me within that time. I have spoken with the general Consul of Ghana through the pro bono phone system afforded at the facility. I was told that my travel documents would not cause issue for my return to Ghana. Since then, I have tried several times to contact the office again, but have not been able to reach the consul.

I have cooperated with every request of my deportation officer in good faith to acquire a travel document. Despite those efforts, one has not been issued and I remain languishing in detention. It has been a long wait.

My removal period has run over 180 days — now approximately 230 days. In total, I have been in detention for more than one year. All notices being sent to me are to continue my detention.

I feel very sad and at risk of being deported, as I currently find myself detained at the Theo Lacy facility. I am determined to take this action, setting new goals to my life. I fear that if deported to my country, I will be killed or suffer great hardship due to my lack of parents.

My life is precious. I will face a great hardship if I am returned to my country, Ghana, since I have no hideout. Ghana is a small country.

My question is where should I live? Who will take care of me? Where am I going to start a new life? These questions bother me all of the time.

I only need a solution to my problem — praying and fighting for my stay in this country — than return back to Ghana where I fear harm.

This is my real story of testimony.


CIVIC has remained in touch with Amdi since he was deported to Ghana, but we have since lost contact. His last communication with us was in the summer of 2017, when he told us that he was struggling to survive. “It is very hard,” he said.

To learn more about immigration detention and to join CIVIC’s movement to close immigrant prisons, visit

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