By JOEY PETERS
Esther Agbaje had been hearing for months that the Trump administration might target Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, for new restrictions on legal immigration. But it was still a shock when official word came down on Friday.
Agbaje’s parents moved from Nigeria three decades ago. Some family members there still hope to move to Minnesota, Agbaje said, but if the new policy takes effect, it will likely complicate that.
“We don’t know how it’s going to affect us,” said Agbaje, who is also running for a seat in the Minnesota House. “It’s really upsetting and devastating and frustrating that we’re continuing to see these xenophobic policies coming out of our federal administration.”
Agbaje was among roughly 50 people who gathered Saturday in front of the federal courthouse in Minneapolis to protest President Trump’s new immigration curbs on Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan — all mostly Muslim countries.
The restrictions are scheduled to take effect Feb. 22 and will likely face legal challenges. They come two years after President Trump’s initial travel ban restricting immigrant visas from people coming to the United States from Somalia, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela and North Korea.
The administration has said such moves are necessary for U.S. security. Critics call the policy racist and a continuation of Trump’s stance against Muslim immigration voiced during the presidential campaign.
“It is a continuation of the xenophobic and racist policies that this administration hopes [will] divide neighbors and divide us and, most importantly, to change what this nation is moving toward,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which organized Saturday’s rally.
Minnesota is home to at least 2,000 Eritreans, more than 6,000 Nigerians and more than 10,000 Kareni refugees from Myanmar.
Because of this, Veena Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said the newly announced restrictions will have an outsized effect in Minnesota.
“This policy will prevent spouses from living in the same country, and starting a family, something I take for granted every day,” Iyer told rallygoers. “This policy will prevent grandparents from joining children they sent off to the United States long ago and now have children of their own.”
Minnesota is also home to 74,000 Somalis who’ve been affected since the initial travel ban went into effect in 2017.
Mustafa Jumale, who works with Black Immigrant Collective and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, is one of them. His cousin’s daughter currently lives in Ethiopia but cannot be reunited with her mother, who has lived in Minnesota for more than a decade, Mustafa said.
People from the listed countries who want to immigrate to the U.S. can apply for a waiver, but doing so is an expensive, bureaucratic process.
“Not only do you have to pay the government fees, but you also have to hire a lawyer,” Mustafa told Sahan Journal. “Unfortunately, a lot of families don’t have the energy or the resources or those connections.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison also came to the rally and criticized the expansion. He said his office expects to be a part of legal challenges against the travel ban expansion but hasn’t filed anything yet.
“We’ve never not been a part of the effort for immigration justice, so we’re not going to step out of it now,” Ellison said.
Ellison’s predecessor, Lori Swanson, was one of several state attorneys general to participate in a legal challenge against Trump’s initial travel restrictions. The U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld a third version of Trump’s initial restrictions in 2018.
Congress could also intervene. Jaylani encouraged rallygoers to pressure their members of Congress to support the No Ban Act, sponsored by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, which would limit the president’s authority to impose such travel bans.
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Joey Peters is a contributing reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously served as staff writer for the Santa Fe Reporter and senior reporter for NM Political Report, both based in New Mexico.