The United States has announced the imposition of new immigration restrictions on six countries in Asia and Africa, an expansion of the travel ban introduced in the first week of the Trump presidency. Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania will be affected by the ban’s expansion, a move which President Trump flagged at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. Citizens of the newly listed countries will face less severe restrictions than those of the seven states initially subject to the ban. Although they will be barred from moving to the U.S. permanently, they will still be permitted to travel there temporarily.
The Department of Homeland Security characterised the decision as being in accordance with the Trump administration’s broader efforts to strengthen U.S. borders and combat terrorism. “The only way to mitigate the risk is to impose these travel restrictions,” asserted Acting Department Secretary, Chad Wolf. He noted that the ban was expanded after a year-long “systematic review” of all countries’ efforts in addressing illegal immigration and terrorist threats. Critics from a range of backgrounds have swiftly pushed back against the suggestion that the move was a necessity, however. The Cato Institute – a libertarian think tank founded and funded by Republican donor Charles Koch – published a statement simply headlined “there is no national security justification for the new immigration ban.” The author, Alex Nowrasteh, argued that an American’s risk of being killed in an ordinary homicide is “134,000 times greater than being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by a person from one of those six banned countries.” Meanwhile, the ban was condemned by both immigrant activist groups and Democrats in congress as discriminatory and xenophobic.
The expansion of the ban will most significantly affect Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. More than 14,000 green cards were granted to Nigerians in 2018, while fewer than 6,000 were granted to citizens of the other five countries combined. Although Nigeria continues to face issues with domestic terrorism, the potential threat its citizens pose to Americans is unsubstantiated, and – unlike other countries listed under the ban – its government has generally been a willing partner of the US. The decision reflects Mr. Trump’s longstanding scepticism of African immigration, which critics have decried as motivated by racism. In 2018, the Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump had referred to “shithole countries” when discussing the U.S.’s intake of immigrants from Africa. Whatever the motivations for expanding the ban, it reaffirms blunt-instrument policy making that collectively punishes entire nationalities. In contrast, initiatives that specifically target people who pose terror threats or risk overstaying their visas could be both fairer and more effective.
The travel ban has a controversial history. Candidate Trump’s 2015 call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.” was the genesis of the policy, which evolved into restrictions on arrivals from seven Muslim-majority countries once he was elected president. After a series of legal challenges – premised on the highly credible argument that it involved unconstitutional religious discrimination – the Supreme Court narrowly upheld a watered-down version of the policy by a 5-4 vote in 2018. Though the ban’s final form included restrictions on travel from Venezuela and North Korea, the rest of the list remained true to Mr. Trump’s original intentions for a “Muslim ban.” Three of the newly listed states – Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Sudan – have Muslim majorities, and Eritrea and Tanzania have large Muslim minorities.
The expansion of the ban represents a preview of a significant part of Mr. Trump’s likely electoral strategy in the lead up to November’s presidential election. As in the case of both his 2016 run for president and the 2018 midterms, immigration restrictions – consistently popular with the Republican voter base – are set to be a theme of the election. Anti-immigrant rhetoric in the U.S. is sure to intensify in tandem with the campaign for the presidency, and the regrettable result will be more misguided policies like the travel ban.
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