The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that the U.S. president has the authority to issue travel bans as part of his duty to protect American citizens. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf (right), arguing for the administration, opined that it is only logical that any people applying for a visa to the U.S. be properly vetted. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)
There are general and specific justifications for U.S. President Donald Trump's January 31 order to add Nigeria, Tanzania, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Myanmar (Burma) to the list of seven other countries -- Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen -- subjected to a restriction on travel to the United States.
General justifications for the travel ban include: poor vetting of travelers to the U.S. by the restricted countries; an unwillingness on the part of those countries to share personal data on would-be visitors to the U.S.; and the refusal to accept the return of their nationals if expelled by U.S. authorities.
Although each of the additional six countries added to the list will be subjected to restricted travel – as of February 22 -- Sudan and Tanzania also will be ineligible to participate in the State Department's "green card lottery" program.
The specific justifications for each of the six new countries added to the travel-ban list can be broken down as follows:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is concerned by the large number of Nigerians who overstay their visas. In 2018, this number was estimated at 30,000. In addition, according to DHS, Nigeria fails to cooperate adequately in efforts to apprehend Nigerian criminals who abscond to and seek safe haven in the U.S.
Nigeria is the country that will suffer the most from the travel ban if it does not satisfy U.S. security concerns. Many Nigerian workers -- green card holders legally employed in the U.S. -- send money back home to their families. The World Bank estimates that remittance funds from the Nigerian global diaspora amount to about $25 billion.
Nigerians make up the largest immigrant group in the U.S. from Africa. At a joint February 4 press conference in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama agreed to address all American security concerns, to avoid being subjected to the travel ban.
Tanzania is on the travel-ban list for three main reasons. First, the Tanzanian government is delinquent in supplying information on its citizens seeking U.S. visas. Second, Tanzania has not upgraded the security of its passport system. Third, U.S. intelligence officials see evidence of growing Islamist radicalization among Tanzanian youth, many of whom traveled to Somalia to join the ranks of the Al-Shabab terrorist group, or sought out terrorist cells in the Tanga region in northeastern Tanzania. Some aspiring Tanzanian jihadists cross the border into Mozambique to fight alongside Islamists in the Cabo Delgado province.
On Tanzania's island of Zanzibar, which is about 99% Muslim, anti-Christian sentiment is high, and there is secessionist sentiment among residents who denounce the "Mfumo Kristo" (the Christian system), by which they claim that mainland Tanzania is governed. This secessionist sentiment often includes a push for strict enforcement of Sharia.
Eritrea earned its place on the travel-ban list due to its failure to accept the return of its citizens who are under U.S. deportation orders. As a consequence of Eritrea's repressive regime, there has been a mass exodus out of the country.
The State Department issues annual travel advisories, warning Americans not to visit several regions in Eritrea due to the prevalence of landmines there, especially along the country's border with Ethiopia. The latest State Department "Crime and Safety Report" on Eritrea also cautions Americans about the violent activities of the Eritrean Islamic Jihad -- also known as the Islamic Salvation Front -- which seeks the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in the Horn of Africa.
Kyrgyzstan made the travel-ban list largely because of its lax passport issuance, which has caused a global glut of false Kyrgyzstani passports used by criminals and terrorists to enter Eurasian countries. Kyrgyzstan is also notable for its poor counter-terrorism efforts. Hundreds of Kyrgyzstanis reportedly joined ISIS, and it is not known exactly how many of those who were not killed. It is believed that many have returned to Kyrgyzstan.
Sudan, which in 1993 was added to the U.S. State Department's list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism" -- and whose genocidal regime was overthrown last April -- may harbor terrorist cells. Nevertheless, as a result of the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir, the State Department removed Sudan from the list of countries that most violate religious freedom. In addition, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invited the head of Sudan's Transitional Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to Washington, and the two countries soon plan to exchange ambassadors for the first time in 23 years. When General al-Burhan visits, the White House might use the occasion to remove Sudan from the restricted travel list.
The ongoing friction between the ethnic Burmans, who are Buddhist, and the ethnic Bangladesh (Rohingya) who are Muslim, has disrupted normal paths of emigration to the U.S. Last year, the U.S. accepted about 5,000 refugees fleeing the violence in Myanmar. Most of these refugees probably hope to bring their families to the U.S. as well. Myanmar's government alleges that the ethnic violence began when a Rohingya Islamic terrorist group attacked police stations in the country's northwestern region; Myanmar's military has since driven most of the Rohingya out of the country.
The DHS tightening of visa grants to citizens of certain countries is referred to by many members of the media and anti-Trump partisans as a "Muslim ban." This is a false characterization of the policy, however. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. Tanzania is about one-third Christian and one-third Muslim. Eritrea has more Christians than Muslims. Myanmar is almost entirely Buddhist. Only Sudan and Kyrgyzstan have clear Muslim majorities.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that the U.S. president has the authority to issue such travel bans as part of his duty to protect American citizens. The ruling also determined that the first list of countries placed on the restricted visa program in 2017 did not constitute a "Muslim ban," as North Korea and Venezuela were also included. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, arguing for the administration, opined that it is only logical that any people applying for a visa to the U.S. be properly vetted.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.