Trump administration restricts travel from Nigeria and five other countries

The Trump administration announced Friday it will restrict the ability of immigrants to travel to the United States from six countries, including Nigeria.

The government will curb the ability of citizens of Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania to get certain immigration visas, according to officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and State Department, but it is not a blanket travel ban.

"Because we have higher confidence that these six countries will be able to make improvements in their system in a reasonable period of time, we did not feel it would be proportionate to impose restrictions on all immigrant and non-immigration visas," a DHS official said.

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The official cited national security concerns as the reason for the restrictions, saying the governments of the six countries do not meet requirements for information-sharing and passport security.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE was expected to sign a proclamation approving the restrictions on Friday afternoon, and it will go into effect on Feb. 22.

The proclamation will suspend immigrant visas for nationals of Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria. The restriction applies to those seeking to live in the U.S. permanently, not temporary travelers.

It will also restrict diversity visas for nationals of Sudan and Tanzania.

Travelers on the way to the U.S. prior to the day it goes into effect will still be able to enter the country, the DHS official said. If individuals are in the queue to secure a visa and their interview does not take place until after Feb. 22, they will be subject to the new restrictions.

Government officials said the countries face individual challenges that led to their inclusion in the new order. For example, officials cited Sudan's transition from a civilian-military government, Nigeria's lack of identity management for its citizens and Myanmar's struggles with tracking lost and stolen passports.

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"DHS and the Department of State have informed each of the six countries about their specific deficiencies and are actively identifying solutions,” an official said, indicating a country could have its restrictions lifted or have more severe restrictions imposed depending on how it is evaluated moving forward.

The announcement comes at the outset of an election year where Trump is likely to harp on immigration as a key issue to motivate his base of supporters. Trump used immigration as a central rallying cry in 2016, offering divisive proposals like construction of a border wall and a ban on Muslims entering the country.

It also comes just over three years after Trump first announced he would impose a travel ban targeted at several Muslim-majority nations. An altered version of that ban was later upheld by the Supreme Court, and travel from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen is still restricted. The administration separately restricted travel from North Korea and Venezuela as well.

White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamOAN says it will attend briefing as White House guest after violating social distancing rules UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus White House press secretary to return to work after negative virus test MORE defended the existing travel ban in a statement detailing the new restrictions.

"President Trump’s security and travel proclamations have immeasurably improved our national security, substantially raised the global standard for information-sharing, and dramatically strengthened the integrity of the United States’ immigration system," she said. "The orders have been a tremendous and vital success."

The original imposition of the travel ban sparked mass chaos at the nation's airports as travelers were detained and protests broke out in ticketing lobbies.

A DHS official maintained that the timing of the most recent restrictions was not intentional, but a result of a standard policy review process and deliberations by the White House. 

The expanded ban is certain to be challenged in courts, and former diplomats have expressed confusion over the inclusion of Nigeria in particular, warning that restricting travel from some of the countries will harm American interests.

Congressional Democrats were quick to criticize the move, which they see as a proxy for Islamophobia.

"This current president did not consult leadership in Congress on the issue; this is again an abuse of his power and total disrespect of Congress by failing to provide advance notice," said Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeTexas House Dems ask governor to issue stay-at-home order Lobbying world House approves bill banning flavored tobacco products MORE (D-Texas) on a call with reporters.

"There is no doubt terrorists are roaming through some of those countries, but there are also terrorists in Russia and China, and those countries did not receive travel bans. We must push back with major action; we don’t expect to lay down on this,” she added.

Rep. Joseph Neguse (D-Colo.), the son of Eritrean immigrants, said the expansion of the travel ban "puts our nation at risk."

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"At the end of the day, in America, immigrants are integral parts of our communities and it is entirely un-American to discriminate against people based on where they come from and how they pray. There is a sense of urgency around this issue and I am willing to take it on," Neguse said.

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to markup legislation in early February that would repeal Trump's travel ban and strengthen provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act to curb executive power and prohibit religion-based discrimination.

Immigrant rights groups also swiftly condemned the announcement and accused the administration of attempting to revive a ban on Muslims entering the country.

"One particular country jumps out from the list compiled — as Muslims and other ethnic minorities flee persecution in Myanmar, after being subjected to one atrocious crime after another with devastating results, including mass killings, rapes, and the burning of entire villages, the U.S. makes the unconscionable decision to deny them welcome," Amnesty International USA executive director Margaret Huang said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union accused Trump of "doubling-down on his signature anti-Muslim policy."

—Rafael Bernal contributed. Updated at 4:58 p.m.