The Trump administration announced it will place travel restrictions on six additional countries, expanding a policy that has severely prohibited travel from targeted nations.
President Donald Trump signed a new proclamation Friday suspending immigrant visas for Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria. The remaining two countries, Sudan and Tanzania, will be barred from participating in the diversity visa lottery, which randomly allocates 50,000 green cards each year to countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
The new restrictions are scheduled to take effect Feb. 22 and would not apply to temporary visitors, U.S. permanent residents from those nations or anyone who has already been issued visas in the now-restricted categories. Individuals in these six countries who end up in queue for visa interviews after Feb. 22 would be subject to the new restrictions, but would also be evaluated for possible waivers, according to Homeland Security and State Department officials.
“The 13 countries that currently have travel restrictions imposed on them rank among the lowest of the low” when assessing for several requirements the administration deems necessary for national security and admissibility, one of the officials said on a call with journalists Friday.
“The new six countries have greater prospects of improvement, but have similar deficiencies to the original seven,” he added. Based on fiscal 2018 statistics, the official estimated about 12,400 people could be affected by updated restrictions before any waivers and exceptions apply.
The official mentioned the new nations on the list had some combination of the following attributes: They do not issue passports with electronic chips, have not enforced lost passport reporting policies consistent with international standards and have not shared criminal and biometric information with the United States. They also may exhibit economic or political conditions that make them vulnerable to terrorist groups.
“We look at compliance and risk in tandem, because we are intrinsically more concerned about risk stemming from gaps and vulnerabilities in high-risk countries, particularly the higher risk that a terrorist can come to the United States,” the official said. “These kinds of fundamental identity management and information sharing gaps become a much higher priority, although we do expect all nations in the world to meet the baseline.”
One official said the expanded travel ban would not “apply to any refugee processing.”
The current travel ban already prohibits visas for anyone traveling to the U.S. from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — all predominantly Muslim countries. North Korea and political officials from Venezuela also are covered under the current ban.
Advocacy groups quickly rebuked the Trump administration’s announcement.
Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, asserted that “the ban should be ended — not 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,” he said in a statement. “Families, universities, and businesses in the United States are paying an ever-higher price for President Trump’s ignorance and racism.”
The ACLU has filed lawsuits challenging different versions of the administration’s travel ban.
Trump issued his initial version of the policy on Jan. 27, 2017, just days after he was sworn into office. Soon after, several federal judges issued injunctions blocking implementation of the travel restrictions. The Trump administration issued a second version of its ban in March 2017 that removed Iraq from the list of targeted countries as well as restrictions on Syrian refugees.
After a federal judge struck down that iteration, the Trump administration issued a third version of the ban, which the Supreme Court upheld in June 2018 in a 5-4 ruling that allowed most parts of the order to go into effect. However, the courts requested the Trump administration continue to issue waivers to certain foreign nationals from the countries under the travel ban.
According to the most recent data from the State Department, a total of 79,769 foreign nationals from countries under the current travel ban submitted applications for a waiver from Dec. 8, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2019. However, only 17,798 visas were allocated and more than half — specifically 42,048 applications — were deemed “ineligible” under terms of the ban.
In anticipation of the administration’s expansion of the policy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Monday that the Judiciary Committee will take up legislation (HR 221) to repeal the travel ban.
“This vital legislation would repeal the Muslim ban, strengthen provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act by prohibiting discrimination based on religion, and ensure that executive authority to prohibit the entry of noncitizens can no longer be abused in this manner,” they said in a joint statement Friday.