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Nigerians make up one of the largest groups of African immigrants in the U.S. Some are worried that family members who've applied for visas won't be able to come now because of new travel ban restrictions. Carmel Delshad/WAMU

Nigerians shocked by Trump’s new immigration restrictions

5 February 2020

Akinbode Akinmutimi still remembers the first time he saw a U.S. dollar in Nigeria. He was in the fourth grade and was taken by the words “In God We Trust.”

“I really want to come to this country that trusted in God,” Akinmutimi recalls.

He did just that and moved to the U.S. 17 years ago.

Today, Akinmutimi says he’s living his American dream with his wife and three kids. But he worries about other Nigerians who are looking to do the same.

The Trump administration recently widened its travel ban, which stipulates who can enter the U.S., to include six more countries — Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar. Unlike previous iterations, this travel proclamation doesn’t apply to refugees, students or tourists.

But it does prevent people from Nigeria from being able to immigrate to the U.S. permanently. Government officials cited security concerns for the move, saying the countries on the travel ban aren’t complying with U.S. security requirements for passports and information sharing.

Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf said last week the restrictions “are not blanket restrictions.”

“These tailored restrictions will make the U.S. safer and more secure. And countries that make the necessary improvements will have their restrictions removed accordingly,” Wolf said.

Akinmutimi, a cybersecurity analyst, understands the need to protect the security of America, but he doesn’t agree with how it’s being done.

Rafiu Aremu (center) sits alongside others at a Nigerian mosque just outside D.C. Aremu wonders whether the real purpose behind the travel ban is to reduce the inflow of immigrants from Africa to the U.S.
Carmel Delshad/WAMU

“They should make sure they vet people from coming to the United States. But putting the entire ban on a country … I don’t think it’s proper,” he says.

Akinmutimi says members of the Nigerian diaspora contribute to not only American society, but the economy.

“We have doctors, we have lawyers, we have so many people that are doing very well,” he says.

Migration Policy Institute study shows first- and second-generation Nigerians are typically more educated and more likely to hold professional jobs than the general U.S. population. According to a New York Times report, experts say there could be wide-ranging economic effects following the travel ban.

The Nigerian government, for its part, says it will address the security concerns outlined by the United States.

Kudirat Koletowo immigrated to America 50 years ago. She’s a proud Muslim and believes the new travel ban targets certain African countries for a reason.

“We know that Trump don’t like Muslims. And he should take that out of his mind. We contribute a lot to this country,” Koletowo says. “Innocent people are caught in the middle of this.”

Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Eritrea — all part of the latest travel ban — have large Muslim populations.

Department of Homeland Security release following the latest announcement of the travel ban said, “These restrictions do not reflect animus or bias against any particular country, region, ethnicity, race, or religion.”

Other iterations of the travel ban have faced legal challenges and outcry from immigrant rights groups. The Supreme Court upheld the travel ban in a 5-4 decision in 2018, which found the ban was “squarely within the scope” of the president’s powers.

Koletowo says that while her family members in Nigeria aren’t looking to immigrate to the U.S., she’s still concerned about what will happen if they do decide to leave.

Rafiu Aremu left Nigeria in 1999 and now lives in Maryland. He thinks there’s more to the travel ban than protecting national security.

“When you are making a targeted immigration restriction on certain countries, I think there’s an undertone to that,” he says.

As Aremu speaks about the ban, he wonders:

“Is the government trying to reduce the racial integration of African American[s] in the States?”

Many Nigerians have questions about how the travel ban might affect them. The Nigerian American Lawyers Association plans to hold a community seminar to answer those questions this week, before the ban goes into effect in late February.

By Carmel Delshad. This piece first appeared on the US’s National Public Radio.

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