Nigerian Americans have reacted with shock, dismay and determination after learning their country, Africa’s most populous nation and the source of the largest African diaspora in the U.S., is on the Trump administration’s list of six countries facing travel and visa restrictions set to take effect Feb. 21.
Some see racism and politics at work, but others say they are redoubling efforts to convince the U.S. government that their home country doesn’t belong on the list. The U.S. accepted some 7,900 immigrants from Nigeria in 2018, by far the biggest number for any African nation, virtually all for relatives of American citizens.
The U.S.-based Association for Credible Leadership in Nigeria (ACLN) has started a Change.org online petition to protest the restrictions and called on Congress to intervene.
While the Trump administration has cited safety and security in expanding the travel restrictions, “we strongly condemn this action and consider it a form of discrimination and racism,” according to the petition, which had more than 2,800 signers as of Monday. “There are larger nations like China and Russia, which do not cooperate with the U.S. on the aforementioned [issues], and none of them has been put on any form of ban.”
Olusegun Adeyina, former president of the Nigerian-American Public Affairs Committee in Georgia, came to the United States for his education and has since become a naturalized citizen. Mr. Adeyina said last week on the NPR talk show “1A” that Nigerians have contributed greatly to American society.
“I believe [the ban] is un-American,” Mr. Adeyina said. “We have to rethink our strategy in this country to be inclusive of all people.”
Maryland has the second-largest community of Nigerian Americans after Texas, ahead of immigration magnets such as New York and California, according to a 2016 census survey. For the thousands of Nigerians in the Washington metropolitan area, the ban feels painful and personal.
A spokesman for a leading Nigerian diaspora group in the Washington area, who did not want to be identified by name, said in a phone interview that many local expatriates said the government’s move felt like unjust punishment.
“We are shocked by what is happening, and we are still trying to process this situation,” the spokesman said. “The community is very confused and sad. … We are law-abiding citizens, and we don’t know why we are being singled out. Generally, we collectively reject the ban.”
The policy, which is scheduled to take effect Feb. 21, would prevent Nigerians from seeking permanent residence visas in the U.S.
Citizens from Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan will be blocked from settling in the United States as immigrants.
According to the administration’s proclamation, the suspended countries did not comply with information sharing criteria as outlined by the Department of Homeland Security. Nigeria specifically was accused of failing to “adequately” share information regarding public safety and terrorism.
“As president, I must continue to act to protect the security and interests of the United States and its people,” Mr. Trump wrote in issuing the order.
Blowback on the Hill
The move has sparked blowback in Congress.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., New Jersey Democrat and an outspoken opponent of Mr. Trump’s immigration policies, denounced the ban. He cited “countless” Nigerian Americans, Eritreans, Sudanese, Tanzanians and people of Myanmar who he said have built successful careers and families in the United States.
“This cancerous ban isn’t just an insult to our fellow Americans, but a slur on the people living in these nations,” Mr. Pascrell said.
Critics of the visa restrictions say Nigeria, while facing a major Islamist insurgency at home, has not been cited in a terror-related threat to the U.S. in more than a decade. Nigerian writer and critic Kola Tubosun said Nigerians in the U.S. are among the best educated immigrant groups, with 21% holding either master’s or doctorate degrees.
“Ordinary families,” Mr. Tubosun wrote recently in Foreign Policy.com, “don’t deserve the harm this ban will cause.”
But some analysts and Nigerian Americans reluctantly acknowledge the U.S. arguments and say the looming restrictions point to the need for the Nigerian government to improve its systems.
Stanley Onye, a Nigerian American professor at Maryland-based Snaco Consulting, said the ban could help shore up the “porous” borders of northern and eastern Nigeria from people who have been using the country as a gateway to access the United States.
“The visa ban is a demonstration of what [the] United States is foreseeing happening in Nigeria,” said Mr. Onye, speaking last week at a National Press Club forum.
Mr. Onye, however, sympathizes with “law abiding” Nigerian Americans whose spouses and children are unable to join them in the United States because of the travel ban.
“The visa ban affects me even though it is meant to protect me,” Mr. Onye said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Nigerian officials put a diplomatic gloss on the move when Mr. Pompeo met with Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama at the State Department last week. Nigeria “has room to grow in sharing important national security information,” Mr. Pompeo said. “I am optimistic that is going to happen.”
Mr. Onyeama acknowledged that his government was “somewhat blindsided” by the U.S. visa restrictions but said Nigeria has started working on the issues flagged by U.S. officials. Among them: a new information-sharing system to meet Homeland Security Department standards for passport security and better sharing of criminal and terrorist information.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has established a committee “to study and address the updated U.S. requirements” in response to the ban, presidential spokesman Femi Adesina told The Associated Press.
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