The Trump administration argued that its new travel restrictions on six countries are focused on immigrants instead of visitors because the former are harder to remove from the country.
Under the new rules, which go into effect after midnight on Feb. 22, nationals from Nigeria, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Burma will not be issued immigrant visas that lead to permanent residency, except for certain waiver categories that include Department of Defense translators or embassy employees. Sudan and Tanzania will be barred from the diversity lottery, which is available to applicants who meet certain educational, job skills, and background check standards from countries that have low rates of immigration to the U.S.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told reporters that Belarus had been under consideration in the new wave of travel bans, but made improvements to their security and avoided inclusion.
“It is logical and essential to thoroughly screen and vet everyone seeking to travel or immigrate to the United States,” Wolf said. “However, there are some countries from whom the U.S. does not receive the necessary information about its travelers and, as a result, pose a national security or public safety risk that warrants tailored travel restrictions.”
“It is fundamental to national security, and the height of common sense, that if a foreign nation wishes to receive the benefits of immigration and travel to the United States, it must satisfy basic security conditions outlined by America’s law enforcement and intelligence professionals,” the White House said in a statement.
A DHS senior official told reporters that the targeted countries had fallen short on travel security and advancements including using modern electronic passports with biometric chips, reporting loss or theft of nationals’ passports, sharing on request other identity verification information, sharing info on known or suspected terrorists and criminals, sharing examples of their authentic passports to train U.S. officers, and not impeding the flow of data to DHS from airlines serving the United States.
Asked why the restrictions targeted immigrants and not visitors from those countries, the official acknowledged that “certainly in many instances gaps and vulnerabilities could have an impact” when admitting visitors on non-immigrant visas, but “because we have higher confidence” that the six countries would be able to make improvements the administration didn’t want to penalize the countries across all categories. Instead, the official said, immigrants were the focus of the ban as they pose the “greatest challenge in removal proceedings.” The ban doesn’t apply to tourist or business travel, work visas or refugee applications.
The official added that if improvements are not seen in the targeted countries, Trump could decide to impose additional restrictions that could impact visitors. If the countries make improvements expected by the U.S., restrictions could be lifted altogether.
Travelers who have already been granted visas will not be impacted by the ban. The official said the timing of the announcement was based on the outcome of the review process that ended last year, and it “took a while to deliberate on what the right proportional response was.” Current bans against Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Somalia also remain in place.
Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed told Reuters earlier this week that the United States had not reached out to the Nigerian government about the imminent plan. “A travel ban is going to send the wrong signal to investors, it is going to stifle the good of the country and vulnerable people who need medication and schools will be the most affected,” he said.
Asked to detail why each country was placed on the list, the DHS senior official said security concerns precluded the revelation of specific details about how each country was deemed to have fallen short. The official acknowledged that Nigeria, with “a more elevated risk and threat environment,” does work with the U.S. “on quite a few counterterrorism issues,” but said the country’s ID management capabilities and reporting to Interpol “could use quite a bit of improvement.”
House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), while on a congressional delegation trip to Sudan last week, sent a letter to Trump last week arguing that Sudan has made progress since the ouster of the Omar al-Bashir regime and inclusion on the list would “negatively impact Sudan’s path toward democracy and peace.”
“While we recognize that this is a work in progress, Sudan has taken important steps to combat terrorism and to prevent the movement of bad actors,” Bass wrote along with Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
Vanita Gupta, former head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department and president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said today that Congress should step in and pass “a corrective measure that will prevent Trump and future presidents from discriminating against groups for religious reasons.”