WOODLAND PARK, N.J – In Kansas City, Kansas, the Baraza African Cultures Center has been fielding calls from Nigerians and other African immigrants “highly concerned” about how an expanded travel ban that went into effect last week will affect their families.
And in New Jersey, Steve Nwaaogu, 38, was hoping the travel ban would be temporary, and that a petition to bring his 13-year old daughter from Nigeria to join him, his wife, and son in the United States will be processed and approved this year.
A new Trump administration immigration policy that went into effect Friday has some immigrant communities across the country expressing fear and concern about what happens next for their family members, many of whom will no longer be able to move legally to the United States after waiting years for visas.
“Some are people that came to this country because they were fleeing harm and danger and were so grateful to end up in the United States, and others came for education to build a real future for their families,” said Andrea Khan, chief operating officer for the Baraza African Cultures Center, which serves refugees and other immigrant communities in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. “And for the country to turn around and do something like this, they are very much in shock, because that is not the America they know.”
The Trump administration announced the expansion of its controversial travel ban late last month, saying it would add immigration restrictions on citizens from Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea and Kyrgyzstan who want to live or work in the U.S. permanently. It also bars citizens from Sudan and Tanzania from the U.S. diversity visa program, also known as the “green-card lottery,” which aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States by selecting applicants from countries with lower rates of immigration.
The federal government cited security as the reason for expanding the travel ban to those countries, saying they had deficiencies in sharing terrorist, criminal or identity information.
“It is logical and essential to thoroughly screen and vet everyone seeking to travel or immigrate to the United States,” said Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a statement announcing the new restrictions. “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.”
Supporters of the Trump administration’s tougher policies on both legal and illegal immigration applauded the travel ban.
“This is more directed at the governments than at the individual immigrants,’’ said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform or FAIR, a group that favors limiting immigration. “The individual immigrants are being put in this position by their own government’s refusal to cooperate and provide the necessary information, or their inability to do so.”
But Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the travel ban should end and not be expanded.
“President Trump is doubling down on his signature anti-Muslim policy – and using the ban as a way to put even more of his prejudices into practice by excluding more communities of color. Families, universities, and businesses in the United States are paying an ever-higher price for President Trump’s ignorance and racism,” he said in a statement.
The ban does not affect citizens from those countries traveling on a tourist, student or foreign worker visas, but only those who seek immigrant visas to relocate to the United States and obtain legal permanent residency. Refugees, existing visa holders and those seeking special immigrant visas, which are granted to those who help the U.S. armed forces abroad, also won’t be affected.
The Trump administration said the ban was limited to immigrant visas because it is more challenging to remove a person from the United States if they are admitted with an immigrant visa or green card approval if it’s later discovered that they have terrorist connections, criminal ties or found to have misrepresented information.
Thousands of immigrants affected
The travel ban will prevent thousands of people from moving to the United States, and will likely have the most impact on Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa. In 2018, the United States approved nearly 14,000 green cards for citizens of Nigeria, compared to 8,182 for Burma, 2,428 for Eritrea, 908 for Kyrgyzstan, 3,658 for Sudan, and 3,186 for Tanzania, according to data from U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services.
The American Community Survey estimates for 2017 show that 344,979 U.S. residents were born in Nigeria, a huge jump from the 134,940 that reported being born in Nigeria in the 2000 census.
Many Nigerians have left their homeland to pursue education and more high-skilled job opportunities.
“We feel that we don’t belong in that list,” said Jide Lawore, pastor of Agape House of Worship in Roselle, New Jersey, who was born in Nigeria and who leads a church where nearly 60% of parishioners are immigrants from Nigeria. “We have made a lot of positive contributions to the United States. We are educated, a lot of us are professional people in the United States, we are shocked by it.”
The expanded travel ban has already led to criticism over its targeting of African countries, with advocates and others calling the move discriminatory, and the hashtag #Africanban circulating on social media.
Anthony Afolo, president of the Newark African Commission, called the new edict an “immigration ban.”
“It’s mostly affecting people here, not the people in Nigeria,” said Afolo. “We are the ones here, we are the ones who have relatives, parents, spouses that are over there that may eventually want to live here.”
Nwaaogu, of New Jersey, said he received asylum approval more than two years ago and soon after he was able to petition for his wife and two children. They moved to New Jersey seven months ago, but his 13-year old daughter’s paperwork was held up because of an issue with the photograph on her passport, he explained. His daughter lives with her grandmother in Nigeria.
He said after the latest reiteration of the travel ban was announced he reached out to his immigration attorney, who told him that there could be a chance that the travel ban would be placed on hold by the courts, or that Nigeria will get off the list. He said he is still hopeful his daughter will join him soon.
“We will wait to see but we hope she will be here this year,” he said.
Trump’s travel ban has a long history
The expansion of the travel ban came three years after President Donald Trump signed an executive order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” which became known as the travel ban. That measure prevented citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
The initial ban was blocked by the courts after protesters gathered at airports across the country to denounce the policy. Months later, Trump revised the travel ban to include nationals from six Muslim majority countries, but that executive order, too, was halted by a federal judge.
The third version of the travel ban, which applies to travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea, as well as some Venezuelan government officials and their families, was upheld by the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the president did have the executive power to broadly restrict immigration and that his anti-Muslim statements did not undermine his authority. The court concluded that the ban was legal because it allowed for case-by-case waivers.
Mehlman of FAIR said he didn’t expect the expanded travel ban to be challenged in court but said that countries in question could make improvements and get off the list.
“You have to trust people on the ground who are saying they are not getting the cooperation that they need,” Mehlman said, referring to State Department employees. “And we have seen in the past that when cooperation is forthcoming, that these countries can get off these lists.”
The country of Chad was removed from the travel ban in 2018. The White House said at the time that the Central African country had improved its identity-management and information sharing practices sufficiently to meet the baseline security standard.
But Badri Kuku, president of the Sudanese Community Center in Iowa City, Iowa, said the U.S. government is punishing Sudan for its past.
“We as Sudanese people have tied hands because of bad government that has happened, but I believe we have one of the best prime ministers who is now doing whatever it takes to bring Sudan back,’’ he said. “Sudan needs help from the whole world, and I don’t support this idea of putting a ban on Sudan.”
John Stauffer said he was pained to see Eritrea included on the list of countries affected by Trump’s latest travel ban. Stauffer worked in Eritrea during a stint in the Peace Corps in the 1960s and later created The America Team for Displaced Eritreans, a Pennsylvania-based organization that assists Eritreans trying to reach the U.S.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has held on to power for nearly 30 years as the leader of the nation’s sole political party. Human Rights Watch says the government’s requirement that young Eritreans perform 18 months of national service, either in the military or civil service, continues to be abused by the government that forcibly extends those terms for years or decades. The United Nations maintains a full-time observer for Eritrea who last year lamented that the nation has not made any improvements to its dismal human rights record.
The situation has become so dire that more than 500,000 Eritreans have fled the nation, many dying on rickety boats trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, others scattered from Europe to Latin America in their quest to find a safe port.
Stauffer said he can understand the Trump administration’s argument that the government of Eritrea has not been a reliable partner and does not readily share information with the U.S. government. But Stauffer said including Eritrea on the travel ban is dangerously misguided, since the Eritrean government can now force more people to stay in the country under forced labor conditions.
“(The government) is just laughing it up over this,” Stauffer said.
Even more troubling, Stauffer said, is that no Eritrean has ever been involved in any terrorist plot targeting Americans. More than 21,000 have been accepted into the United States as refugees since 2000, and Stauffer said they have been leading productive lives in cities like New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle.
“It’s like a low-hanging fruit,” he said. “Eritrea is overall in no position to retaliate for anything the U.S. does.”
Monsy Alvarado is an immigration reporter for NorthJersey.com. Alan Gomez is the USA Today reporter focused on immigration and Latin America.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @monsyalvarado