The Trump administration is expanding its travel ban. It now prevents nearly a quarter of Africa from getting immigration visas.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Kim Brown. The United States, under the Trump administration, unveiled yet another travel ban aimed at mostly nonwhite nations, reinforcing again that we are a country fully willing to enact racism into our policies under the guise of national security.
Donald Trump: So we have a travel ban. It’s a very powerful ban. We’re adding a couple of countries to it. We have to be safe. Our country has to be safe. You see what’s going on in the world. Our country has to be safe, so we have a very strong travel ban, and we’ll be adding a few countries to it.
Kim Brown: On Friday, it was announced by the state department via conference call to reporters that Eritrea, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sudan face new visa restrictions for immigrants. Trump’s first travel ban of three years ago, which targeted mostly Muslim countries, was eventually upheld by the Supreme court in a five to four decision. So what remedies are available for those ensnared in this mess? And how are the human effects being felt? Joining us today to discuss these daft but incredibly damaging policies are Diala Shamas and Ibraham Qatabi. Diala is a staff attorney for …
I’m sorry. Guys, the prompter stopped working on me. My bad. Okay, perfect. Three, two, one. Diala is a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where she works on challenging government and law enforcement abuses perpetrated under the guise of national security both in the US and abroad. Ibraham is a senior legal worker at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where he helps coordinate a large network of pro bono counsel representing Guantanamo detainees and assists with attorney-client meetings at the prison. They’re both joining us today from New York. Thank you guys for being here.
Diala Shamas: Thanks for having us.
Ibraham Qatabi: Thanks for having me.
Kim Brown: The first batch of banned countries, Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela, people affected by this and the most recent travel ban expansion have described a feeling of being in limbo, being afraid to travel back to their country of origin because of a fear of not being able to return here to the US, or even worse, people coming here with their paperwork fully in order just to be immediately sent back. So before we get deep into the legal weeds, can you both share with us some stories about how people’s lives have been upended as a result of these bands? Diala, go ahead. You can go first.
Diala Shamas: Absolutely. I mean the ban did exactly what it was intended to do, the first ban, the one that president Trump announced when he was campaigning and which he issued on the day on his first day in office, which was then amended after it was successfully challenged in the courts. And now we have the sanitized version, we call it Muslim ban 3.0, and it fulfilled its role, which was to sow chaos and to separate families and to place all of these families in limbo.
Our organization has been working closely with the Yemeni-American communities and that community has been very hardly hit by the presidential proclamation, or the Muslim ban. Families have been separated. Yemen is also a war zone at the moment, and we had to go all the way to Djibouti to be able to even access some of our clients and to be able to report the chaos that the ban has sowed in the Yemeni-American community. The chaos is absolutely an intentional part of what the ban was intended to accomplish, as well as the president obviously signaling to his base that he will deliver on his racist, white supremacist policies that he promised on when he ran.
Kim Brown: Ibraham, do you have any stories that you can share with us about how people have just been really sent into disarray as a result of these policies?
Ibraham Qatabi: Yeah. Like Diala mentioned, we have worked with dozens of Yemeni-American families and we have seen, for example, in Djibouti where children for three, four years are not able to go to school or have access to health care and these are children of US citizens. So it’s tearing families apart, separating children from their parents. And basically those who were able to work in the US, I’m talking about US citizens here, and saved up some money, now basically out on loans because they have to send some money to third countries. We know families who sold their buildings. We know family who sold their stores. And that’s actually a big hit, financially speaking, in the community where people were living the American dream and all of a sudden living a nightmare. So it’s not only designed to prohibit people from foreign countries, but also targeting here people of color, Muslims of U.S. citizens.
Kim Brown: So these new restrictions are slated to go into effect on February 21st and there are several types of visas used to enter the United States, including student, tourist, worker, immigration. So what kinds of visas are being impacted or is it all of them?
Diala Shamas: Yeah, so this newest iteration is, I think, wrongly named a travel ban. I mean, we still call it a Muslim ban because it’s certainly an expansion of the Muslim ban, and that’s certainly how this administration has presented it, but it’s also an immigration ban. So the kinds of visas that are no longer going to be available from the nationals of four of the countries are all immigrant visas. So those countries are Nigeria, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar. And then Sudan and Tanzania have only a ban on diversity visas.
So if you think of, overall, what immigrant visas are, an immigrant visa is a term that basically means that you’re coming to the United States to stay here, to be here permanently. And one of the main ways that people get immigrant visas has been family reunification, so it’s a US citizen who is trying to bring their spouse, their children. And this is a fact pattern that’s very common in a lot of these communities, the Yemeni community certainly. Nigeria is also a significant population that uses immigrant visas.
Diversity visas represent a smaller slice, but a very important slice of immigrant visas. They’re visas that are available to countries that we don’t have a lot of immigration from those countries and we want to encourage immigration from those countries. So there’s a certain number of these visas that are allotted. And what Trump just said is that that will no longer be available to Sudan and Tanzania, as well as Nigeria, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar, in addition to the previously banned countries.
I know it gets very complicated, but basically what we’re seeing here is a ban on immigration, on all immigrants. And why that’s significant is that, as you might recall, the Trump administration has made a case for this to be a matter of security. But this visa doesn’t ban tourists. It doesn’t ban business visas, people who aren’t coming here to immigrate. And that, among many other things, gives lie to the so-called national security argument and really reinforces the fact that this is an anti-immigrant ban, an anti-Muslim ban, and, and basically an anti-anything that’s not white ban, and it’s really about who we want to become part of the social fabric of the United States of America. Those are what immigrant visas are for.
Kim Brown: And especially when we look at the map and you look at a map of Africa and the countries that are affected, it’s a quarter or nearly a half of the entire continent that is now having some sort of restrictions on bringing immigrants to this nation. So Ibraham, obviously this is targeted against black and brown people, but the security concerns are what the Trump administration are using to justify it. And some of the concerns that they claim have to do with improper vetting or improper documentation being asked at some of these countries to issue their passports. Are any of these concerns legitimate?
Ibraham Qatabi: These are misleading information and maybe alternative facts. For example, we know the people that we work with, some of our clients have been waiting to come to the United States for over a decade, one client for 17 years, let alone before even these bans. For these countries, the immigration processes are already complicated. They go through extreme vettings and the pure examples that we have seen from all the cases that we work with is that most of these families are kids. So we don’t know how a five years old child of a US citizen can become a national security threat to the United States. It’s actually the opposite. And so there are a lot of things out there that are not completely true. These people go through extreme vetting. They wait for years to come to the United States to join the US citizen family members.
And so none of that is completely justified. In some cases we have to file a case in court in order to bring the family members of a US citizens. That’s not a policy to protect national security, that’s a policy that’s targeting families, separating kids from their parents. And it’s designed, like you said, targeting Muslims and people of color. And it’s crystal clear. Like I said, a quarter of the African population is targeted by this expansion. And so there is no justification other than what Trump himself said clearly, that it’s a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. And they just basically go in with that discriminatory policy. They’re not applying it to Norway, they’re not applying it to the UK, they’re not applying it anywhere else where a nonwhite nation. So it’s completely aimed at people, citing the national security nonsense, but we have seen it that is only targeting children, mainly children, and people who really want to come here either to study or for medical attention.
Kim Brown: It’s completely shameful. So what remedies are there available for people who are being targeted in this way? I was reading, there’s a lot of anecdotes, a lot of different personal narratives on Twitter, people describing how they or their families are being impacted. This one, sad story of a woman who wanted to travel back to Nigeria for a funeral of a family member, but she was afraid to because she wasn’t sure whether or not she would be readmitted back to the US. So are there legal remedies available for people who are caught up in this?
Diala Shamas: As I’m sure everybody knows, the Supreme Court upheld the third sanitized version of the travel ban or the Muslim ban that President Trump issued. And so, although there are still ongoing legal challenges, especially in light of the additional evidence of how this ban has played out on the ground in reality and as plaintiffs and as lawyers are able to bring that evidence to the courts to sort of make the case, again, that the ban is not about national security, but actually it’s about discriminating against Muslims. Those challenges are still ongoing and they’re playing out. But we know, especially since the Supreme Court issued its ruling, that the courts are not really going to be the solution here. The majority of the legal challenges right now are about whether or not the waiver process that is part of the proclamation and is also included by incorporation into the expanded ban, is sufficient, is actually operating the way it should be operated.
So the waiver process is essentially window dressing that the Trump administration has included into the ban to make it look like there is a way out for people who can make a claim that they don’t pose a threat to national security and that it would be in the United State’s interest to let them in. We know through our work with our clients as well as now very publicly available statistics and data is that waiver process has been nothing but a sham. So there are some legal challenges as to the adequacy of the process that are still unfolding in the courts. And right now that’s the only lifeline to these families and to these communities. Until Congress does something to reverse the ban or to repeal the ban, families can only seek a waiver and many have. So we’ve been able to obtain waivers for some individuals, but that’s with using a significant amount of resources and time and it certainly has not been sufficient or adequate solution.
The ban in and of itself should be overturned and we believe should be found unlawful. So the new countries that are on the ban are going to be people who are trying to come and join their families in the US, are going to have to similarly avail themselves of the waiver process. And that as a process, it’s still pretty murky. It’s shadowy intentionally still. It’s really not clear what you need to be able to present to meet a consular officer’s determination that you meet the criteria. And we’ve challenged that, but unfortunately it’s all that we are working with. So our position as an organization is that we’ll do what we can to support families and communities while they all deal in these moments of crises.
But ultimately the solution here is one that Congress needs to act on and the political process needs to act on. The ban needs to be overturned. It has no basis in national security. It has been extremely damaging. Our clients have been harmed by the ban and, across the country, communities and families have been suffering as a result of these kinds of draconian measures and it needs to be overturned.
Kim Brown: Ibraham, Diala raises a great point, that congressional intervention is probably needed here. But in your opinion, is it likely to come?
Ibraham Qatabi: first of all, let’s remember that we are dealing with Trump administration, which has no respect for the rule of law and diversity in this nation. They have been targeting black and brown people, which is crystal clear from the beginning of the term of the administration. What do we need right now, which is what our communities are doing, is to mobilize the communities to do some education about what this administration is doing to people and to their own US citizens. So it is not fair for a US citizen, for me, to file a case every time I want to bring a family member from abroad. What do we need to do right now is to repeal the Muslim ban, which I think is taking place right now as we speak and in Congress.
What we need to do is keep mobilizing like we see in the Yemeni-American community where we have seen with a bodega strike, like we have seen with the Muslim and the communities at large all across the United States. And we are in a very important year, the election year. This come November, people need to voice what they really believe in to make sure that we change this system. We change this administration in order to make sure that we put an administration in place that would respect the constitution, that respect the people’s rights and the immigration policies that we have in place. The first thing to do, I think many of the democratic presidential running folks are candidates at this point saying if they won, they will repeal the Muslim ban.
Kim Brown: All right guys, we’re going to have to leave it there. We’ve been speaking with Ibraham Qatabi and Diala Shamas, both of the Center for Constitutional Rights where Diala is a staff attorney and Ibraham is a senior legal worker. We’ve been discussing the expansion of the Trump Muslim, African ban. There’s no point in calling it a travel ban because it’s mainly aimed at Muslim countries and Africa. So thank you both for your vociferous comments today. We certainly appreciate you joining us.
Ibraham Qatabi: Thank you for having us.
Diala Shamas: Thank you.
Kim Brown: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.
Studio: Bababtunde Ogunfolaju, Will Arenas
Production: Genevieve Montinar, Will Arenas, Andrew Corkery