Faris El-Khider, a physician at the internationally recognized Cleveland Clinic in the United States, almost got on his flight to Sudan last week. He was scheduled to fly home to visit his family last Wednesday, and he was already at the airport when he heard about American President Donald J. Trump’s plans to implement new travel restrictions. So he canceled his flight and stayed in the United States, knowing that if he left he might not make it back.
One of his colleagues was not as fortunate. As the independent, investigative news agency ProPublica reported, Suha Abushamma was traveling with a Sudanese passport when she landed in New York City and was forced to return to her native Saudi Arabia. Despite abruptly ending her travel plans in a frantic attempt to get back to the U.S. before Trump’s executive order took effect, Abushamma was denied admittance.
Her return flight was in the air about seven minutes before a judge placed a stay on deportations relating to the Trump ban, as similar stories played out across the globe. In Cairo, an Iraqi family – one that has essentially invested everything in their immigration journey to America – was pulled off their plane. EgyptAir is among the airlines complying with the U.S. directive that bars the door to immigration.
“Donald Trump destroyed my life,” Fuad Sharef told the Washington Post; he once worked as a U.S. translator and fears return to Iraq. “How can he do this to people who risked their lives to help America?”
Potential impact on African immigration
It’s a question much of the world wants answered, including thousands of Americans themselves who crowded airports across four time zones to demand that passengers held on arrival be released and allowed to proceed. As if the Trump ban wasn’t complicated enough, the legal stays – and the incoherent and contradictory responses of U.S. agencies and officials – demonstrates just how ill-conceived it is.
The “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” document begins, after just 22 words, by recalling the 2001 terror attacks against the United States and quickly establishes the terror threat as its purpose.
It’s the framework for why no Syrian nationals will be accepted as refugees, indefinitely, despite the lack of logic as to why suffering Syrians are “detrimental to the interests” of the nation, since there is no evidence that Syrians have been responsible for that or any subsequent U.S. attacks.
Likewise, no Libyans – none – have ever been convicted of planning an attack on U.S. soil at any time between 1975 and 2015, according to a report from even the traditionally right-leaning Cato Institute. That’s also true of Sharef’s homeland, Iraq; that of El-Khider’s country, Sudan; and the nations of Iran, Somalia and Yemen.
While Syria was singled out, all seven nations “of particular concern” are under a full 90-day travel ban. What’s more, the Trump administration says it is reviewing the possibility of adding many more countries in its quest to eliminate the threat of radical Islam on American soil.
That may well include more African nations where an extremist threat continues or is emerging. Trump has made clear his xenophobic intent to target Muslims and Muslim-majority nations; that means much of the continent, including countries like Nigeria, and heads of state including the newly elected Gambian president.
It’s America’s chaos, but African leaders need to speak up
In the meantime, there is a full stop on all refugee admissions – from any country – for the next 120 days to allow for review of applications. Beyond that, new procedures are expected and will be required of applicants in process. Among other provisions, the executive order slashes to 50,000 the number of global refugees that America will accept in 2017, and places a priority on at-risk “religious minorities.”
In contrast, former U.S. President Barack Obama planned to increase acceptance to 110,000 refugees overall in 2017. In 2015, the most recent data year available, there were 22,472 refugees admitted to the U.S. who claimed an African nationality. In 2014, the U.S. Department of State boasted of its commitment to resettle refugees from Somalia and Chad, the Central African Republic and DR Congo.
What’s confusing to the leaders of other nations appears to be just as troubling to American judges and lawmakers. Following the New York judge’s decision, others around the country followed suit – letting resident immigrants go home, or arrive at their new one. Even as some American officials defended the move, others including the White House Chief of Staff “clarified” information that contradicted other readings.
Amid interpretations of the ban as unconstitutional for its basis in targeting a religion, or far beneath traditional American values on refugees, some members of Trump’s own Republican Party including key national lawmakers blasted the president’s directive as a “hasty process” that was not properly vetted.
In turn, Trump tweeted late Sunday that two of them – senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham – are “sadly weak on immigration” and should “focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III.”
Amid the chaos, it makes sense that the immediate crisis of stranded passengers and separated families stuck in airport terminals be sorted out. What’s imperative, though is that the United States engage with other countries, but not just with European allies like Ireland, where elected officials have condemned the measure, or Germany, where Angela Merkel has reportedly reminded Trump of U.S. obligations to accept refugees under international law.
It’s imperative that African nations and their leaders must also have voices that are clearly heard, and as the African Union summit meetings continue – with formal sessions Monday and Tuesday – the AU and its member states need to develop a clear response to U.S. immigration policy. It targets some African nations now with ties to the threat of terrorism and has future Muslim-majority countries in its sights.