The move will inevitably exacerbate tensions over Trump’s divisive immigration policies just as the president’s campaign schedule begins to pick up ahead of November’s election. Already, critics were quick to resurface Trump’s prior slandering of African nations as “shithole” countries, and his specific comments, reported by The New York Times, that Nigerians who come to the U.S. will never “go back to their huts.”
On Tuesday, Trump is expected to defend his aggressive immigration policy at his annual State of the Union address to Congress.
An announcement of the expansion was initially slated for this past Monday, the third anniversary of the original ban, a contentious executive order that restricted travel from several majority-Muslim countries. But it was pushed back as the White House mobilized to handle the coronavirus outbreak in China, a situation that has caused the Trump administration to announce a public health emergency.
The final list of countries targeted in the ban’s expansion or the extent of the restrictions was unclear up until the last minute, with two people familiar with the matter telling POLITICO on Thursday that the proposal was still in flux.
Trump signed his original travel ban just a week into his tenure, creating an immediate flashpoint for his presidency and sparking massive, nationwide protests.
The executive order, which followed a call from Trump during the 2016 campaign for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” initially denied visas to citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. It was later modified as it went through a series of court challenges.
The Supreme Court eventually allowed a third version of the order to go into effect. That version restricted entry of some citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, along with Venezuela and North Korea. Chad was removed from the original list.
Officials on Friday said the updated ban would focus on foreigners seeking permanent residence in the U.S., rather than all travelers, because immigrant visa recipients are more difficult to remove from the country if a security issue is found.
The officials stressed that they were talked to the the six countries about “remedying” their particular deficiencies, leaving open the possibility that each could be removed from the list. For instance, they noted that Chad was removed from the initial version of the ban for this reason. And Tanzania and Sudan, they added, were only facing a suspension of diversity visas because the administration said they saw a “greater prospect for improvement” from them.
Nigeria, a nation of some 200 million people, is Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy. It is a major source of African migrants to the United States, and Nigerian-Americans are among the most educated and financially successful diaspora groups in America.
Trump has in the past spoken of wanting to expand the U.S. trade relationship with Nigeria, which also is a major oil-producing nation.
Nigeria has faced violence within its borders, including from the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. The U.S. has helped Nigeria fight its internal terrorism threat, while Nigeria is part of the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State terrorist group.
The Nigerian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Citizens of the countries included in Friday’s expansion still may be eligible for waivers or exemptions to the new rules. The administration officials cited potential exceptions for special immigrant visas like those for embassy officials or individuals who help translate for the military, or for those who have experienced acute hardship.
Reports of an expansion of the travel ban began to emerge earlier this month. Trump himself confirmed the reports while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.
“We’re adding a couple of countries to it,” he told reporters, calling the current version of the ban “very strong.” Nevertheless, he continued, “we have to be safe. Our country has to be safe. You see what’s going on in the world. Our country has to be safe.”
Immigration advocate groups swiftly denounced the move, as they had been preemptively doing ahead of the expected announcement.
“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,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Families, universities, and businesses in the United States are paying an ever-higher price for President Trump’s ignorance and racism.”
One U.S. travel trade group also criticized the restrictions, saying they send a off-putting message to travelers.
“Despite the label, the fact is the words carry weight. While the countries affected by the expanded policy represent a very small fraction of visitation to the United States, restricting entry to the U.S. carries a negative perception that threatens the reputation of our country as an attractive and welcoming destination for global business and leisure travelers,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
The initial travel ban was extremely polarizing. Public polling at the time was inconsistent, with some showing strong support and others finding strong opposition. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released earlier this week found a similar split in opinion about a potential expansion, with a slight plurality opposed.
The poll found that while 39 percent of registered voters approved of expanding the travel ban, 41 percent opposed it, differences of opinion that fell within the survey’s margin of error. Support or opposition fell largely along party lines. Close to three-quarters of Republicans backed an expansion, while two-thirds of Democrats — and 42 percent of independents — opposed expanding the ban.
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.