President Trump announced an extension of the controversial “travel ban” to six additional countries, including Nigeria. It isn’t really a ban on travel but rather a tightening of admissions for immigrants. The stated rationale is national security. It’s a flimsy excuse and a dumb idea.
There’s scant evidence Nigeria poses a security risk to the U.S. “This is a big mistake. Why would Nigeria be on the list? It doesn’t have a history of terrorism against the U.S.
There’s been one incident a long time ago. Nigeria is not even close to being a terrorist threat,” says Dr. Christopher Okunseri, President-elect, Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas.
He’s right. While Nigeria has a significant problem with Islamic terrorism inside the country, it has not exported it. Nor have its citizens carried out terrorist attacks inside the U.S., unlike some countries not on the list, like Saudi Arabia.
U.S. diplomats agree. “To state the obvious, Nigeria is a partner in the struggle against terrorism….” says John Campbell, former Ambassador to Nigeria, now with the Council on Foreign Relations. And another foreign relations expert says, “Off-the-record… This is definitely not good, especially on the eve of the upcoming U.S.-Nigeria BNC strategic dialogues. Nigeria is a U.S. strategy partner.”
If Nigeria poses a genuine security threat, why are the new rules aimed at immigrants rather than visitors? Terrorists are far more likely to come on short-term visas, which are relatively easy to get. Long term visas are not. Those who wish to immigrate must go through a lengthy, expensive, cumbersome and uncertain process with a low approval rate. According to FactCheck.org, 18 of the 19 terrorists who committed the 9-11 attacks arrived on tourist and business visas.
It is focused on immigrants because according to Quartz, over the last decade immigration from Africa has grown twice as fast as that of any other region, despite efforts by the Trump administration to make it more difficult. And Nigeria is on the list not because it poses a genuine security threat, but because it is the major source of immigrants from Africa and like all the recent additions to the list, a country with a significant Muslim population.
Details of the plan are still scarce and no one is quite sure exactly how impactful it will be to the 8,000 or so Nigerians who immigrate in a typical year. Confidential sources inside the State Department downplay the potential impact of the changes, insisting it’s mostly a matter of cleaning up some procedural issues. The New York Times disagrees, predicting the effect on Nigerian immigration will be “particularly severe.”
Any negative effects at all would be a bad thing. Nigerians are the immigrants America should be trying to attract. In 2015 the Migration Policy Institute took an in-depth look at the roughly 400,000 Nigerian-Americans. They found Nigerians are the best educated of 15 groups analyzed by the Rockefeller-Aspen Institute Diaspora Program. 37 percent of first and second-generation Nigerians have undergraduate degrees, almost twice the U.S. average. Almost three times as many have advanced degrees. They’re more likely to work in professional and managerial professions. 83 percent are of working age and 73 percent are likely to be in the workforce, with 88 percent of those employed. They work hard and send money back home, reducing the need for the U.S. to provide foreign aid. They have a high naturalization rate relative to other types of immigrants. Nigerians come here to become Americans.
In other words, Nigerian immigrants tend to be young, hard-working, highly educated, and committed to this country. They pay taxes and contribute their fair share to schools and roads, and because of their demographics more than their fair share to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. They’re exactly the sort of immigrants who for the last three centuries have made America great.
The travel ban on Nigeria is a cheap, cynical ploy intended to curry favor with the anti-immigrant, anti-black and anti-Muslim segments of the electorate before the upcoming elections. It will hurt Nigeria. And it will hurt America.
Sam Hill is a Newsweek contributor, consultant and best-selling author
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