Nigerians Shocked By Trump's New Immigration Restrictions

Feb 5, 2020
Originally published on February 6, 2020 9:21 am

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.

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

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

"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.

A 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.

A 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.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Trump administration plans to bar people from Nigeria from applying for immigrant visas. It cites security concerns. There are already hundreds of thousands of Nigerians in the United States, and some of them are very worried about this development. Carmel Delshad of member station WAMU has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARMEL DELSHAD, BYLINE: At a church in suburban Maryland, many of the 2,000 members are from Nigeria. In his busy office after a recent service, Pastor Bayo Adeyokunnu says the latest travel ban took his congregation by surprise.

BAYO ADEYOKUNNU: They wonder, what did we do wrong? I don't know why the president took that decision. I'm still in shock.

DELSHAD: The Trump administration widened its travel ban late last week to include six more countries - Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar, also known as Burma. Unlike previous iterations, this travel ban 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. Adeyokunnu says Nigerians in the U.S. are worried that family members who've applied for visas won't be allowed in.

ADEYOKUNNU: They're wondering about affecting their filing. Will their wives all then be able to come here or their fiance?

DELSHAD: The White House says the countries on the travel ban aren't complying with U.S. security requirements for passports and information sharing. Churchgoer Akinbode Akinmutimi says he understands the need to protect the security of America. The 42-year-old is a cybersecurity analyst. But he doesn't agree with how it's being done.

AKINBODE AKINMUTIMI: 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.

DELSHAD: Akinmutimi and other churchgoers say Nigerians contribute a lot to American society and the economy. Studies show first- and second-generation Nigerians are typically more educated and more likely to hold professional jobs than the general U.S. population.

AKINMUTIMI: This is an immigrant country; either you like it or not. We should think of the bigger picture, not just restricting some people from coming here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

DELSHAD: Several miles away, prayers are recited at a modest brick mosque as dozens gather inside the main prayer hall.

KUDIRAT KOLETOWO: Innocent people are caught in the middle of this.

DELSHAD: Kudirat Koletowo has been in the U.S. for 50 years. She believes the new travel ban targets certain African countries for a reason.

KOLETOWO: We know that Trump don't like Muslims, and he should take that out of his mind. We contribute a lot to this country.

DELSHAD: Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Eritrea - all part of the latest travel ban - have large Muslim populations. Another congregant, Rafiu Aremu, also thinks there's more to the travel ban than protecting national security.

RAFIU AREMU: When you are making a targeted immigration restriction on certain countries, I think there is an undertone to that.

DELSHAD: Aremu has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years.

AREMU: Is the government trying to reduce the racial integration of African Americans in the States? These are fundamental questions.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

DELSHAD: Many of the Nigerians I spoke with had questions about how the travel ban might affect them. The Nigerian American Lawyers Association plans to hold a seminar for residents in the greater Washington, D.C., area to answer some of those questions this weekend.

For NPR News, I'm Carmel Delshad.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAPTAIN NIGERIA'S "C2C") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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