Trump’s Nigeria travel ban: Racism at its worst, and a president trying to shore up his base?

February 2020

President Donald Trump signs initial travel ban executive order, Jan. 26, 2017

JEHRON MUHAMMAD


Googling and reading the plethora of news stories and commentaries concerning the Trump administration’s decision to add six new countries to his controversial travel ban, including Nigeria, Africa’s largest nation with over 203 million people and roughly 16 percent of the continent’s population, make you wonder whether this is veiled racism, more red meat for his presidential campaign or a feeble attempt to shore up his base?

Or, as the Dept. of Homeland Security said in a press statement did these countries fail to meet security criteria and the U.S. has updated the “methodology” used to determine compliance with security criteria?

Bloomberg.com didn’t call Trump’s decision to ban the world’s seventh most populous nation racism, but highlighted the administration’s history of bigoted practices, including likening “African nations to latrines.”

“Trumps comments about African nations being sh*thole countries were not just words. He was foreshadowing actual policy direction,” Karen Attiah, the Washington Post’s Global Opinions Editor tweeted.

Adding insult to injury, the New York Times cited a meeting between several members of Trump’s cabinet where he raged against foreign visitors to the United States. Citing a memo from Stephen Miller, the president’s chief immigration hardliner, Trump took to complaining concerning the impending arrival of thousands of people from Muslim and predominantly African nations. They “all had AIDS,” Trump reportedly said, about immigrants from Haiti. As for Nigerians? Once they saw America, they would never “go back to their huts.”

Some analysts have described the expanding travel restrictions as an “African ban,” observed Gyude More, a former Liberian government minister and current fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C.

Some call the ban an attempt by Trump to shore up his electoral base in the run-up to November’s presidential election where immigration will likely again be a hot button topic.

According to Mother Jones, Trump defends his latest moves by arguing that he wants more high-skilled immigrants. “Nigerians are among America’s best-educated immigrants. In 2017, 61 percent held a bachelor’s degree or higher, nearly twice the rate for the U.S. native-born population and for the foreign-born population as a whole. Fifty-four percent worked in the arts, business, management, and sciences, compared to 39 percent of the native-born,” said Mother Jones.

To be perfectly clear, Nigerians aren’t just your average taxi car driving or Uber driving immigrants. The median income for households led by someone of Nigerian ancestry was $68,658 in 2018 compared with $61,937 for U.S. households overall.

Then there are the Dr. Bennet Omalu types, the Nigerian immigrant who was portrayed by Will Smith in the movie “Concussion.” Dr. Omalu was responsible for publishing research on the degenerative brain disease he called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. The research has brought attention to the problem of brain injury and playing football.

According to Nigeria’s House of Representatives Committee on the Diaspora, about 77 percent of members of associations of Black doctors practicing in the United States of America were Nigerians.

In the U.S. there are over 25,000 medical practitioners of Nigerian descent and over 5,000 skilled Nigerians living in the United Kingdom. Nigeria has over 80,000 registered doctors with more than 50,000 of these reported practicing abroad by the Nigerian Medical Association. Umar Yo-Cuba, director-general of Nigeria’s Counter Fraud Center, said similar statistics can be found among economists, statisticians, engineers and general academics working outside of Nigeria.

“Nigerians who come to the U.S. usually speak English before they get here, they tend to be well educated or in the process of becoming so, and they don’t seem to have much trouble getting jobs or otherwise fitting in,” reported Mother Jones. Even if these aren’t the only criteria immigrant success should be judged by, and “there’s something more than a little creepy about passing such judgments upon people by their country of origin. But since immigration policy in general and the new immigration bans, in particular, do just that, it does seem relevant that Nigerian-Americans are clearly among the most relevant groups in the U.S.,” said the magazine.

Trump’s views about Nigerians appear to be shaped by “gut-level racism, not data.” Chronicling an Oval Office meeting in 2017, Mother Jones reported senior White House policy advisor Stephen Miller provided a list of how many people from different countries entered the U.S. as some kind of measurement for who should or should not be able to enter the country.

Trump’s new travel ban includes four African countries, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Eritrea.

“Trump’s travel bans have never been rooted in national security—they’re about discriminating against people of color,” Senator Kamala Harris, the former Democratic presidential candidate, declared. “They are, without a doubt, rooted in anti-immigrant, White supremacist ideologies.”

The specifics of the travel ban, Quartz Africa reported, includes citizens of Tanzania and Sudan being restricted from taking part in the green card visa lottery which is typically available for nationals in countries that have low levels of immigrant populations in the U.S. “It’s important to note visas for tourists, students, workers, and businesspeople are unaffected by these changes.”

The Trump administration’s argument, according to Quartz Africa, “is countries affected have had problems with a range of issues from failing to update passport technology to exchanging information sufficiently on terrorism suspects and criminals.”

Bloomberg.com reported part of the problem “is that the U.S. isn’t supplying nearly enough immigrant visas to Nigerians. The demand is clearly there, and Nigerian immigrants have a track record of great success here. … And yes, if the U.S. allowed a big increase in the number of immigrants from Nigeria, their education levels and success rates might fall. But banning immigration from Nigeria outright, as the administration has now done, seems like a pretty big step in the wrong direction.”

To the average person, it’s obvious that Nigeria isn’t much of a national security threat given that they are among America’s most successful immigrants, even surpassing native-born Americans in income and educational attainment.

What only matters to the Trump administration is that they’re Black and of African ancestry and at the bottom of what they perceive as “racial hierarchy.”