The new ban takes effect Feb. 22; travelers who have received visas or are in transit at that time will not be affected. Travelers who have not received visas will be subject to the ban but will be automatically considered for waivers.
Officials estimate the policy will affect several thousand people a year, on the basis of recent immigrant arrivals from those countries. The policy will now limit immigration from 13 countries.
Trump’s initial ban in 2017, which initially targeted Muslim countries, ignited chaos during his first days in office amid allegations that the ban was discriminatory and illegal. The policy was knocked down in federal courts and then reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the new expansion signals that the administration is not going to relent in its efforts to slash immigration during an election year.
Added to robust measures at the U.S. southern border that have curbed Central American migration in recent months, the targeting of immigrant visas also allows the president to advance his goal of reducing family-based migration.
Trump, in a proclamation issued Friday, said the countries were chosen after an extensive evaluation that examined travel security and measures, and national security threats in dozens of countries; those that made the list were chosen from a recommendation that U.S. officials made in January.
“The six additional countries recommended for restrictions in the January 2020 proposal are among the worst performing in the world,” Trump said in the proclamation, but he said he was encouraged by their “willingness to work with the United States” to correct the deficiencies.
A statement from the White House said that it is “fundamental to national security, and the height of common sense, that if a foreign nation wishes to receive the benefits of immigration and travel to the United States, it must satisfy basic security conditions outlined by America’s law-enforcement and intelligence professionals.”
Refugees from the six countries are exempt from the ban.
House Democrats attacked the expansion hours before the Trump administration unveiled it, calling the ban “xenophobic” and “reckless” and saying there is no evidence of national security threats that would warrant such restrictions.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity on a call with reporters, federal officials would not detail specific national security threats in the six countries for fear of disclosing information to “nefarious” actors there. But officials said there were “gaps and vulnerabilities” in each nation that could be exploited by terrorists and criminals.
Officials said the countries had been selected on the basis of a ranking system that evaluated countries for compliance with various vetting and information standards as well as terrorism risks. The standards they looked at included whether the countries use biometric passports; whether the country reports theft and loss of passports adequately to the United States or Interpol; whether it shares information on known or suspected terrorists and criminals; whether it shares examples of its passports with the United States so they can be used to determine signs of fraud.
The current ban prohibits immigrant and most temporary forms of travel to the United States for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea, as well as certain visits for some Venezuelan government officials. All but two, Venezuela and North Korea, are majority Muslim. Trump in 2018 complained about accepting too many immigrants from Africa, Haiti and El Salvador, which he labeled “shithole countries.”
“Our country has to be safe,” Trump told reporters last week at a news conference in Davos, Switzerland.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), who represents Houston, home to a large number of Nigerians, said there are concerns with terrorist groups in some countries but that there are “bad actors” in China and Russia, both not included in the ban.
“We believe in the process of due process, freedom of movement. . . . They are the national and international values that we show to the world,” she said, adding that Trump abused his power because he bypassed Congress. “This administration has stripped and shredded those values with no basis in security.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress plans to vote soon on legislation that would substantially restrict the president’s authority to limit such travel to the United States, but the measure is unlikely to clear the Republican-dominated Senate.
Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit organization that favors restrictions on immigration, said she hopes Trump’s proclamation will lead to greater passport controls in the targeted countries.
“Everybody’s being evaluated, and these are countries that didn’t make the cut,” said Vaughan, who was a U.S. consular officer in the early 1990s.
But she said it would have been more effective had Trump also imposed restrictions on temporary visas, because security lapses could still occur. “All it takes is one entry by a terrorist to cause a problem,” she said.
Of the six new countries, Nigeria also has the largest number of immigrants in the United States — about 300,000, not counting their U.S.-born children — with many in Texas, Maryland and New York. Nigerian immigrants and their children were more likely to have college degrees than the overall U.S. population, according to a Migration Policy Institute report. Nigerians also accounted for one of the largest groups of visa overstays in 2018, according to DHS.
The ban is expected to disrupt millions of dollars of business deals, analysts say, as well as freeze a robust flow of Nigerian students to the United States that, according to the Commerce Department, contributed approximately $514 million to the U.S. economy in the past academic year. The number of Nigerian travelers to the United States dropped 20 percent last year after the U.S. government ended a frequent-traveler program and increased entry fees.
Republicans and Democrats have raised questions about the effectiveness of the travel ban and other “extreme vetting” measures under the Trump administration. After a Saudi military trainee shot and killed three sailors in December at a naval air station in Florida, Republican lawmakers asked the Trump administration to explain why it allowed Saudi military trainees into the country.
Though citizens of the banned countries can apply for waivers if they are denied entry, few receive them. Approximately 10 percent of the 72,000 applications for waivers to the ban filed by citizens of Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria were granted in the past two years, according to the State Department.
Paquette reported from Dakar, Senegal.