The administration of President Donald Trump announced on January 31, 2020, that it would ban immigration from Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar as of February 22, 2020. The announcement immediately drew sharp criticism from the targeted countries, U.S. civil and human rights activists, immigrant advocates, and some members of the U.S. Congress.
Eritrean Foreign Minister, Osman Saleh Mohammed, said that he found the U.S. ban “unacceptable.” Kyrgyzstan stated that the U.S. visa restrictions were done in a selective fashion and had damaged bilateral relations.
Immigration activists stressed that the ban advances the xenophobic views of the Trump administration.
Immigration activists stressed that the ban advances the xenophobic views of the Trump administration. The expanded ban on new countries will restrict primarily immigrant visas, while certain non-immigrant visas would be still available. The Trump administration explained that the countries added to the ban list fell short of meeting specific passport requirements and/or failed to share information with the U.S.
This is the latest expansion of the so-called travel ban, which initially applied to seven other countries since 2017 – Libya, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and North Korea (Iraq, Chad, and Sudan were initially included but then later removed from the list) – on the grounds of protecting the U.S. from potential terrorist threats from citizens of these nations.
While national security concerns are reportedly at the root of the travel ban, there is no clear evidence that nationals of these countries have posed significant threats to the U.S. relative to other countries or that the ban improved U.S. security.
Nationals of the seven countries that were originally blacklisted “have killed zero people in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.”
If history is any guide, nationals of the seven countries that were originally blacklisted, namely, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria, by the Trump administration “have killed zero people in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015,” according to Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert with an American think tank called the CATO Institute.
Nowrasteh’s research revealed that “six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemini have been convicted of attempting or carrying out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil [between 1975 and 2015]. Zero Libyans or Syrians have been convicted of planning a terrorist attack on U.S. soil during that [40 year] time period.”
Asserting that the national security argument in banning immigrants from Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, Myanmar, Tanzania, and Sudan has no legs to stand on, Nowrasteh points out that “the annual chance of being murdered by a foreign‐born terrorist from those six countries on U.S. soil is about 1 in 1.9 billion per year.” While the threat of terrorism remains real, the newly blacklisted countries pose next to no threat to the U.S. In fact, revelations of documents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security show that “citizenship is likely an unreliable indicator of terrorist threat to the United States.”
If foreign-born terrorists posed a significant threat to the U.S., 15 of the 19 terrorists that perpetrated one of the largest and deadliest attacks on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001, were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon. Disclosures of missing 28 pages from the 2002 joint U.S. congressional investigation and a probe by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the September 11 attacks linked high-level Saudi individuals with the terrorists.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor the other countries the September 11 terrorists came from have been included in the U.S. travel ban.
Yet, neither Saudi Arabia nor the other countries the September 11 terrorists came from have been included in the U.S. travel ban. Not even the recent December 2019 killing of three American servicemen by a Saudi aviation student in Pensacola, Florida — which the U.S. confirmed as a terrorist attack— has elevated Saudi Arabia’s threat level to the U.S.
This highlights not just the glaring inconsistencies of the current U.S. immigration policy, but also its unwillingness to confront more powerful countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that do have a track record of spreading violence and extremism.
The biggest damage that the travel ban has inflicted is not to the U.S. national security, but on thousands of ordinary and peaceful immigrants and their families from the blacklisted countries. The ban has cost many foreign nationals the ability to get education and jobs and to visit or reunite loved ones in the U.S. There are countless stories of families being torn apart by the travel ban.
Some immigrant parents have not even met their newborn children because of a stoppage of visa issuances to their spouses and other family members. There are many immigrants who were unable to bring their sick family members to get lifesaving treatments in the U.S. The number of immigrants being hurt by this cruel policy will grow under the widened visa restrictions.
Indeed, the travel ban damages bilateral relations with blacklisted countries, weakens U.S. influence on them, discredits American values of supporting democracy and freedom, and makes it harder for the U.S. to protect its national security and geopolitical interests.
As an example, Nigeria, which is the largest economy and most populated country (190 million people) in Africa, has been an important U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism, especially Boko Haram, one of the most dangerous jihadist terrorist groups in Nigeria.
Kyrgyzstan, a small country of 6 million in the former Soviet Union, has been a crucial ally in the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In fact, it was the only country in the ex-Soviet space that has ever hosted a U.S. military base to assist it in its operations in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2014. It is also the only functioning democracy in a region surrounded by autocrats.
After the Iranian government shot down a Ukrainian civilian plane on January 8, 2020, President Trump explicitly expressed his support to Iranian street protesters. Yet, his administration maintains the travel ban on Iranian people, thereby, rendering his rhetoric hollow.
“More deaths were caused by domestic violent extremists than international terrorists in recent years.”
The cruel travel ban is likely to reduce immigration from the blacklisted countries. However, it has caused more harm than good to the U.S. by driving away its allies, while doing nothing to help reduce real threats of terrorism. According to an October 2019 public statement of the current FBI Director Christopher Wray, “more deaths were caused by domestic violent extremists than international terrorists in recent years.”
Wray stressed that domestic violent extremism is rooted in “perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, socio-political conditions, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and reactions to legislative actions.” Because there is no such thing as domestic terrorism in the U.S., the FBI Agents Association urged the U.S. Congress to codify domestic terrorism as a federal crime last Summer. In the end, the growing travel ban on immigrants has little to do with national security, and everything to do with state-sanctioned xenophobia, racism, and bigotry.