Trump’s latest travel ban is intended to garner domestic support ahead of 2020 elections, but risks leaving the door wide open to Chinese and Russian expansionism in Africa.
Three years after his first travel ban, US President Donald Trump is about to issue another.
On Friday, the Trump administration announced it would impose a travel ban on six more countries. Instead of a Muslim-specific ban this time, most affected countries are African.
This comes nearly a year after Trump’s administration emphasised that a key part of its strategy for Africa was to counter Chinese and Russian influence in the continent by growing economic ties. The latest travel ban closes the door on Africa’s largest economy: Nigeria.
Not limited to Nigeria, it also closes the door on Sudan, Tanzania and Eritrea, in addition to Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar, which is accused of waging genocide against its Muslim population: the Rohingya.
The travel ban will effectively restrict thousands from obtaining immigrant visas to the US.
The initial travel ban put into effect in 2017 was widely criticised for targeting Muslim-majority countries in an effort to protect the US from “radical Islamic terrorists.” Nearly 135 million people were affected.
The latest addition to the travel ban is set to impact nearly a quarter of the 1.2 billion people residing in Africa, the economies of their countries and the United State’s reputation in the region.
What does the travel ban actually mean?
The travel ban is set to go into effect on February 22 2020. Any immigrant who obtains a visa before the deadline will still be able to migrate to the US. Nonimmigrant visas for students, temporary workers or based on specialised skills will remain unaffected.
All immigrants will have the right to apply for waivers from the travel ban, particularly if they are in danger of facing hardship if denied entry.
Arms deals unaffected
In spite of the travel ban, Trump’s administration has sold weapons and arms to Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria and Tanzania. The last five countries are in the latest addition to the travel ban. This includes everything from machine guns to attack aircraft.
But going back just a little further puts the alleged concerns about security - that fuel the travel ban - to the test. Since 2002, the US has sold nearly $409 million worth of weapons to 10 of the 13 countries impacted by the travel ban; in spite of poor human rights records, unstable governments, corruption and their role in dubious conflicts.
But even then, a contradiction arises between Trump’s strategic policy of arm sales that ignore human rights conditions on the one hand and China’s aggressive expansion in African markets.
Five countries affected by the travel ban are members of China’s $1 trillion Belt Road Initiative. Eritrea, the sixth, has expressed support for the project, which is not altogether shocking given that China is it’s “largest investor, creditor and trading partner.”
In Nigeria, China invested $5 billion in 2015 alone. In Tanzania, China’s investments are well over $7 billion. In 2018, China wrote off $10 billion in Sudanese debt, while investing a significant portion of its $60 billion African aid package there.
Trump’s travel ban was quick to cause an uproar, particularly among Democrats who have long favoured relaxed immigration laws.
“Trump’s travel bans have never been rooted in national security — they’re about discriminating against people of color,” tweeted Senator Kamala Harris, former Democratic presidential candidate. “They are, without a doubt, rooted in anti-immigrant, white supremacist ideologies."
Two Democrats who are still in the presidential race also weighed in.
Elizabeth Warren described the travel ban as a “racist, xenophobic Muslim ban.” Meanwhile, former Vice President Joseph Biden called it “a disgrace.”
Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, promised that Democrat lawmakers would counter the travel ban with a bill designed to forbid religious discrimination in immigration policy.
A relatively overlooked financial consequence to the travel ban is the billions sent home in remittances by visa-holders. The new travel ban could impact millions who relied on financial support from a family working within the US.
Nigerians abroad send home billions of dollars annually, reaching $24 billion in 2018 alone, according to consulting firm PwC. With a highly oil-dependent economy and an unemployment rate of 23 per cent, remittances form a lifeline for millions of Nigerians.
Nigerians for instance, are described as among the most successful and highest educated ethnic group to immigrate to the US. Trump had once ridiculed Nigerians by saying they would never return to their “huts” if allowed into the US.
In 2017, 61 per cent of American Nigerians held a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is nearly twice the rate of US native-born citizens and for the foreign-born demographic as a whole. Fifty-four percent worked in the arts, business, management, and sciences, as opposed to 39 percent of native-born Americans.
But the travel ban itself may be political by design. As the Senate prepares to acquits impeachment proceedings without calling for additional witnesses, Trump’s administration may be focusing on rebuilding the President’s standing for the 2020 reelection campaign.
“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 Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in a press release.
In late January, Trump gained the blessing of the Supreme Court’s five conservative justices, which allowed him to begin denying green cards to poor and working-class immigrants he judged were most likely to require government assistance. This pending policy is most likely to affect immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, as well as Latin America.
Trump’s administration’s latest travel ban seems to reflect the absence of a consistent principled or strategic foreign policy, which may come at the cost of its influence and legitimacy abroad; or a welcome victory to Chinese and Russian expansionary interests in Africa.