By Aniqa Hassan
That is the number of immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants who were subject to the Muslim Ban between December 2017 and March 2019. Of the 60,275 applicants, only 5.1% were issued a visa waiver to enter the United States. From 549 stories and narratives, collected by the Bridge Project, of those impacted by this discriminatory policy, one in 10 were siblings who were separated, one in four were children separated from their parents, and one in three were partners separated from one another. This is just a glimpse of the impact that the Muslim Ban 3.0 had on a small fraction of the communities who were affected. From FY 2016 to FY 2018, Iran and Yemen saw the largest drop in immigrant visas with Iran having a 81.2% decrease and Yemen seeing a 90.8% decrease in immigrant visas. More instances of family separation continue to occur, whether they are circulated through the media or endured behind closed doors.
On January 31, 2020, President Trump expanded the Muslim Ban by adding six more nations. The expanded ban added Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Burma (Myanmar), Eritrea, and Kyrgyzstan to an already expansive list of countries that included foreign nationals from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela. This expansion comes just four days after the anniversary of the first Muslim Ban.
Before the expansion, over 170 million foreign nationals fell under the ban. Now, this ban will impact an additional 773 million foreign nationals across the new countries as well as their families abroad.
The expanded Muslim Ban is an attack on brown and black bodies.
Four of the six new countries — Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, and Nigeria — are in Africa, where immigration to the U.S. has grown fivefold in the past 40 years. At the markup of the NO BAN Act, Rep. Jackson Lee (D-TX) said, “He [President Trump] has called these countries s-hole countries. He has indicated his disdain by saying Nigerians will never go back to their huts once they have seen America. 81% of those targeted in the New Ban are African amounting to a ban on one quarter of all Africans”, demonstrating the anti-black and racist sentiments driving his choices.
Doctor and columnist Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu explains the impact on her family and the healthcare industry with thousands of U.S. health care workers coming from Nigeria. The expanded ban only bans immigrant visas meaning that people from the affected countries may receive tourist, student or worker visas but not permanent resident status (green cards). This is simultaneously an attack on family unity and an attempt to control the future composition of America. Henry Ukazu, a Bronx native who immigrated from Nigeria about 10 years ago, said, “Africans have very strong family ties,” and highlighted the harm this ban will bring to immigrant families. He said, “We are not wired to be an individual. We are raised like a bond because we are like a broom, when we are mixed together, we perform very, very well.” Ukazu fears the travel ban will impact levels of productivity and hurt people in Nigeria and the U.S.
The decision to choose these countries is consistent with this administration’s attack on Muslims as well. As of 2015, Nigeria specifically has the fifth largest Muslim population in the world. The Muslim bodies being targeted by this policy go beyond Nigerians. Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania, Sudan, and Eritrea all have Muslim populations ranging from 30% in Tanzania to 86% in Kyrgyzstan. The individuals subject to the ban from Burma include the Rohingya refugees, a stateless Muslim minority who are already impacted by the cuts to the Refugee Program. The addition of these countries shows further evidence that this new ban targets a specific group: black, brown, and Muslim bodies.
The demographics of the countries impacted demonstrate the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments that are pushing this policy forward. Every iteration of this ban is part of a larger White Nationalist movement to stop immigrants and people of color from coming to the U.S. and eventually becoming citizens. The expanded ban is particularly transparent in that it allows temporary visitors, but bans classes of permanent immigrants. According to its purported (and illegitimate) rationale of national security concerns, it is contradictory to allow visitors but not immigrants.
This expansion aligns with Trump’s vision for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.” by eliminating the primary pathways of immigration used by the impacted individuals. The expanded Muslim Ban suspends all immigrant visas from Nigeria, Burma, Eritrea, and Kyrgyzstan and it suspends all diversity visas from Sudan and Tanzania. The ban applies to individuals 1) who are outside of the U.S. on the effective date, 2) who did not have a valid visa on that date, and 3) who have not obtained a waiver. Immigrant visas encompass visas that are family sponsored, employee sponsored, and ones that are allocated through the Diversity Visa Program. Family-based immigration remains the primary pathway for immigration to the U.S. and they account for 65% of legal immigration each year. For those countries with a complete ban on all immigrant visas, U.S. citizens and other individuals residing in the U.S. with family abroad will not be reunited with their loved ones nor will they have the opportunity to apply for them anymore. For some categories of family-based visas, they may have been waiting for the visa to be adjudicated for years. This will increase family separation, hurt communities of color, and impact the future composition of the U.S. Stopping employment based visas will also deprive the U.S. from accessing talented individuals abroad, especially from Nigeria where the majority of Nigerians came to the U.S. on employment-based visas.
The Diversity Visa Program allows nationals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. and grants up to 50,000 immigrant visas through a random selection of qualified applicants from eligible countries. The diversity visa program has been a primary pathway for Africans immigrating to the U.S. with 38% of diversity visas going to African nationals in Fiscal Year 2017. Another 16% of diversity visas that year went to nationals of Asian and Pacific Islander countries. The program is intended to encourage immigration from a broader range of countries and give an opportunity to people who do not have close ties with existing family members or employers in the U.S.. In 2018, 38 were issued to Tanzania, making up 13.05% of all visas issued to Tanzanians, and 3,781 were issued to Sudanese immigrants, resulting in 64.6% of all visas issued to Sudan. Therefore, despite the ban solely suspending diversity visas in Sudan and Tanzania, it has a large impact on those communities due to the number of immigrants who have historically used that pathway.
Impact on Refugees
The Rohingya refugees and Burmese American communities will be particularly harmed because they are already impacted by the decimation of the Refugee Program. The Burmese American community has been growing in recent years due to “protracted armed conflict, human-rights abuses, political repression, and national disasters”. Since Fiscal Year 2012, the largest nationality of refugees has come from Burma, and in the past 10 years, 1 in 4 U.S.-bound refugees have come from Burma. These statistics also include 730,000 Rohingya who fled Burma due to violence that the United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Refugees fleeing ethnic strife such as Pa Hu and Tin Lia, father and son, first escaped to Malaysia prior to gaining refugee status and coming to the U.S. and resettling in Iowa. They still have family in Myanmar and relatives who escaped to Malaysia who they hope to one day bring to the U.S. but will face multiple barriers due to the decimation of the Refugee Program and Expanded Muslim Ban.
The refugee program was first halted in 2017 with the first iteration of the Muslim Ban significantly lowering the number of refugees resettled to the U.S. and increasing family separation. Once it restarted, the President set the refugee level at 45,000 for FY 2018 far lower than the Presidential Determination of 110,000 in FY2017, the last year that President Obama made the determination. The Presidential Determination for FY 2019 was 30,000 and in November, President Trump set the refugee admission ceiling for FY 2020 to 18,000 refugees, the lowest in the history of the program. The impact of this decimation on the Rohingya has meant that between 2015–2016, approximately 7,000 Rohingya refugees were admitted to the U.S., whereas under the Trump’s administration the number decreased to less than 600 in 2017.
With the Expanded Muslim Ban barring Rohingya and Burmese Americans who are lawful permanent residents from sponsoring family members, the administration has closed another door on family unity. This community of resettled Rohingya in the U.S. includes young children in foster care who arrived alone and hope to reunite with family members through the refugee program or family sponsorship. The New York Times recently profiled Hefzur, a refugee in Michigan, who arrived in the U.S. around the age of 14 and had a difficult time adjusting into his foster family and being separated from his parents. He felt guilty about his time in the U.S. away from his loved ones still facing violence at home, and feared that his parents would be killed in Burma. Hefzur said, “My dream is to bring my family here. I’m afraid my mom and dad will die before I can touch them again.” Once these youth become U.S. citizens and become 21 years old they would typically be eligible to sponsor their parents to come immediately through the family-based visa system. However, the Muslim Ban will not prevent anyone from sponsoring any family members who are Burmese nationals.
Stories like Hefzur’s highlight the lived experiences of those impacted by this administration’s discriminatory policies. These narratives have circulated since January 27, 2017, the date of the first iteration of the Muslim Ban, issued one week after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The executive order “banned nationals from seven Muslim majority countries from immigrating or traveling to the U.S.” and temporarily stopped the refugee program. After litigation blocked the ban and the administration issued new versions, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in a 5–4 decision that the Muslim Ban did not violate the First Amendment or exceed the President’s authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act. This ruling came despite the President’s statements about it being a Muslim Ban and the fact that the government’s supposed national security arguments were written after the first Ban was written and were clearly pretextual. Justice Sotomayor echoed these sentiments in her dissenting opinion by saying, “By blindly accepting the government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discriminatory policy motivated by animosity toward a disfavored group, all in the name of a superficial claim of national security, the court redeploys the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu and merely replaces one grave wrong decision with another.”
Moving Forward: Solutions to Repeal The Ban
Since losing at the Supreme Court, community members, advocates, and Members of Congress continue to fight each version of the Muslim and Refugee Ban. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act, or the “NO BAN Act” on April 10, 2019 and it was marked up in the House Judiciary Committee last week. The bill currently has 216 co-sponsors and would repeal each iteration of the Muslim Ban, the Refugee and Asylum Bans, and further prevent the issuance of similar bans in the future that target immigrants based on religion or national origin. It would also declare that the Muslim Ban violates both the anti-discrimination provision of the INA and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protecting against religious discrimination and the Fifth Amendment’s violation of equal protection under the law. During the markup of the bill Rep. Jayapal stated, “The NO BAN Act repeals Trump’s Muslim Ban and sends a clear message to Muslim Americans, Muslims around the world and all those who believe in religious freedom and liberty that the U.S. stands with you as a land of fairness — where people are free to worship whomever they choose.” On February 12, 2020, the NO BAN Act has passed the House Judiciary Committee and the next step will be a vote on the House floor. While we wait for a vote, we have to use our power and collective voices by sharing our stories and calling on Congress to end this discriminatory ban and prevent similar bans from harming communities in the future.
Take Action Today!
Congress must pass the NO BAN Act to uphold the U.S. Constitution and reassert that the U.S. is a country that welcomes all and does not allow the law to discriminate against people based on their religion or nationality. The NO BAN Act would not just repeal Trump’s Muslim, asylum, and refugees bans — it would limit the ability for this administration or any post-Trump administration to do something like it ever again. Please use the #NoMuslimBanEver call tool here to call your Member of Congress.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus & CAIR California:
- Community Advisory: What You Should Know About the Latest Muslim Ban — Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Asian Law Caucus and CAIR California break down the Expanded Muslim Ban. This document will continue to be updated.
- Available in the following languages: Karen, Kyrgyz, Arabic, Burmese, Swahili
- Additionally, if you or someone you know is seeking legal assistance related to the Muslim Ban or the Expanded Ban, please provide details in this form: Muslim Ban Assistance Form — If someone is currently being held or detained, please call Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus at: (415) 848–7733.
Aniqa Hassan is the Policy Intern at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.