The Trump administration’s latest travel ban, announced on January 31, targets six countries — Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. Unlike the previous version, which is still in effect, this is not a total ban. But in seeking to limit legal immigration from these countries, the ban fits into a now familiar pattern — executive actions by the Trump administration seemingly designed to curtail legal immigration by nonwhite people, Muslims and those with lower incomes. And in doing so, the order will do what previous travel bans have done — hurt American families and communities.
The new order bars citizens of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria from obtaining immigrant visas, which allow people to enter the U.S. as permanent residents. Nationals of Sudan and Tanzania are barred from “diversity” visas, a type of immigrant visa made available via lottery to citizens of countries with historically low levels of immigration to the U.S. Four of the six affected countries are in Africa and represent 25 percent of the continent’s population. All six have significant Muslim populations.
The impact of this latest ban on citizens of these countries will be severe. But what the American public may not realize is that the ban will also result in family separations for Americans. It specifically targets immigrant visas for four of the countries. Most legal immigration to the U.S. is family-based, meaning a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident (“green card” holder) has petitioned for a close relative – such as a spouse or child – to come to the U.S. to live. This means Americans who have been waiting months or even years for their family members to join them are now being told their family member’s nationality bars them from uniting.
This is precisely what has happened under the previous travel ban, which bars entry of all nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea. (Government officials from Venezuela are also banned. Iraq was listed in the first ban but later removed; Chad was listed on the third version but also removed.)
Ismail Alghazali, a Yemeni American, testified at a congressional hearing in September that the travel ban prevented his Yemeni wife and two small children from joining him in the U.S.. He has never even held his baby daughter in his arms but has only seen her in photos and videos. Shaima Swileh, a Yemeni woman married to a U.S. citizen, was denied entry into the U.S. to be with her dying 2-year-old son until media and congressional pressure finally resulted in a waiver, which was granted just days before her son died.
The security rationale for limiting immigrant and diversity visas for these particular countries is hard to follow. The order states that immigrant visas for four countries and diversity visas for two will be limited because it is harder to deport immigrants than visitors if the U.S. government later discovers an individual has terrorist connections or criminal ties. But as reported by the New York Times, a government official stated two of the countries were added because these countries had high numbers of people overstaying visas for visitors and other nonimmigrants.
Instead of waiting for President Trump to continue to issue further discriminatory and overbroad travel bans, Congress should pass the “NO BAN Act.” This bill, introduced last April, would prohibit religious discrimination in immigration decisions and repeal the previous travel bans.
It would also amend the provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act giving the president the authority to issue travel restrictions for any group of non-citizens by requiring the administration to provide specific evidence of the need for a travel restriction, to consult with Congress before a restriction is imposed and to report periodically on the impact of this restriction.
Trump’s anti-Muslim animus; his derogatory comments about El Salvador, Haiti and African countries; and his wish to see more immigrants from countries like Norway have all been extensively reported. Whether describing asylum-seeking families fleeing persecution or foreign scholars wanting to study at American universities, he has used dehumanizing language to portray foreigners as categorically dangerous or detrimental to the United States because of their nationality, ethnicity or religion.
Congress and the American public should push back and affirm that the United States is still committed to fairness, nondiscrimination and human rights.