WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump marked the roughly third-year anniversary of his controversial "travel ban" on Friday by adding six African, Central and East Asian countries to the list of those whose nationals face restrictions on travel to the United States.
The Homeland Security and State departments announced the administration is now including Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. More than 80% of those potentially impacted by the new ban are from the latter four African countries, according to America's Voice, an organization advocating for immigration reform.
Administration officials said Friday that the measure would not necessarily block all citizens of those nations from entering the United States, impacting only "limited categories" of travelers with a range of restrictions. The State Department has put increasing pressure on countries it deems "recalcitrant" for not adopting electronic passports with biometric data and agreeing to certain information-sharing with the United States.
Trump was set to sign a proclamation making the expanded group official on Friday, but the new restrictions won't take effect until Feb. 22, officials said.
Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, the son of Eritrean refugees who came to the United States nearly 40 years ago, criticized the decision on Friday.
Two years ago, in January 2018, Neguse saw his daughter for the first time, on an ultrasound. That same day, Neguse, who was then running for Congress, heard reports that Trump had called African nations "shithole countries," asking why the United States couldn't give preference to those from majority-white countries, such as Norway. Neguse said he worried his daughter would face discrimination, worsened by the rhetoric coming out of the White House.
"Would she be able to live her dream in the same way I and my parents had been able to, in light of the president's discriminatory attitudes toward certain people, and the way those attitudes have been reflected in public policy?" recalled Neguse, who was elected in 2018, when Democrats took control of the House.
Trump confirmed plans to broaden the ban at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, saying, "We're adding a couple of countries to it. We have to be safe."
Neither the president nor Homeland Security and State Department officials have detailed any specific threats to U.S. security posed by travelers from these nations.
The White House had intended to expand the ban on Monday, to coincide with the anniversary of the original ban, enacted a week after Trump took office. The initial order targeted seven Muslim-majority countries and was met by nationwide protests at airports, chaos at the Homeland Security department, and lawsuits that ultimately forced the administration to modify the measure.
In June 2018, the Supreme Court allowed a third version of the order to take effect, restricting entry from many citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela and North Korea, while removing Chad from the list. The country made "improvements" in security precautions, officials said.
On Friday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was set to announce the new ban just hours ahead of a crucial vote on one of the last remaining barriers to Trump's near-certain acquittal by the Senate in his ongoing impeachment trial.
Ultimately, days before the Iowa caucuses and the president's State of the Union Address, the department was forced to quietly release the details on Friday with little fanfare - an unexpected development from an administration eager to claim victories on the president's promises to restrict immigration as he intensifies his campaign for reelection in 2020.
The Trump administration has expanded a policy regime effectively blocking asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border - which have increasingly included Africans - and slashing U.S. refugee admissions to among their lowest levels.
The new iteration of the "travel ban" may be intended more for leverage and political messaging than its practical impact on travelers from the seven countries. Homeland Security officials told several of the countries they could avoid being named on the list if they made changes before the announcement, according to The Associated Press.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat representing Houston, Texas, which has one of the largest populations of Nigerians outside of West Africa, said the Trump administration did not consult with leadership in Congress on whether the measure would improve U.S. security.
Lee pledged "major lawsuits" in response, saying, "We don't expect to lay down on this."
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