In this Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, photo, restraints lie on the tarmac as personal belongings of immigrants who entered the United States illegally are loaded onto a plane for a deportation flight to El Salvador by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Houston. David J. Phillip/AP Photo

Congress must oppose the Trump administration’s racist policies towards African immigrants and asylum-seekers

By Adotei Akwei and Dunia Mekonnen

In the last three years, the Trump administration has repudiated U.S. commitments under international treaties related to refugees and asylum-seekers, dismantled the U.S. resettlement program, and forcibly separated families at the US southern border and held unaccompanied children in prolonged and indefinite detention at so-called “emergency” facilities. It has also banned nationals of five Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, as well as North Korean and Venezuelan nationals, from travel to the U.S. except under special circumstances, which can be extremely difficult if not impossible to meet. On January 2020, the President added six more countries to the ban, including four African countries — Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, and Tanzania, as well as Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan, This ban will affect nearly a quarter of the 1.2 billion people on the African continent. The listed countries suffer from acts of terrorism, human rights abuses and political violence. Some of them also face both internal and external conflict. While the ban does not affect refugee resettlement, it affects people seeking safety — people blocked from traveling on certain visas to the U.S. who would then have asked for asylum once here. It also traps people in conflict-affected countries, such as Syria.

The Muslim ban is a clear violation of the U.S’s international human rights obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 2 and Article 26 of the ICCPR prohibit discrimination on any status, such as religion and national origin.

The expanded ban is consistent with an onslaught of policies that have cruelly impacted Africans. In 2017, the Trump Administration announced that 700 Eritrean nationals were under final orders of removal to a country whose government has an abysmal human rights record. The regime of President Isaias has been documented for years as engaging in systematic indefinite arrest, detention, torture, disappearances, and executions, and severely restricting freedom of movement and expression. According to the UN, many Eritreans face detention if they stay in the country or death if they try to leave. Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have targeted Mauritanians for deportation despite reports from the U.S. Department of State of the continued practice of slavery, the very reason behind their requests for asylum.

Nigeria is a critical strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism in West Africa. The respect for and protection of human rights in Nigeria has however been poor for decades, and has deteriorated at an alarming pace in the last four years. Nigerian security forces engaged in a campaign of extrajudicial executions and violence. They also consistently used excessive force, arbitrary detention and torture. According to Amnesty’s 2018 report entitled Willingly Unable, since June 2015, Nigerian security forces had arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000 people and killed over 1,200. On top of this, the culture of impunity in Nigeria’s security forces remains unbroken and in place.

On a similar note, despite signs of progress, Sudan’s transition is extremely fragile and faces several threats from official security forces and allied militias that have committed egregious human rights violations over the last four decades. Abuses include arbitrary detention, torture, assault with impunity and extrajudicial executions, including the massacre of protesters in 2019, killing over 100 in just one attack on July 11. Yet, the Trump’s administration has recognized Sudan as a country in transition to civilian rule and has acknowledged Sudan’s cooperation in the war on terror.

The U.S. Department of State has expressed concern over the deteriorating respect for rights in Tanzania and implicitly acknowledged the increased risk people in the country face. Despite these realities, the administration still proceeded to impose curbs on Diversity Visas to citizens of these two countries, showcasing the administration’s targeted discrimination against persons from Africa. While Amnesty expects this new ban to be challenged in court, Congress must step up and take the following immediate actions to reverse the effects of the ban on African immigrants.

When President Trump signed what has become known as the Muslim ban during his first week in office, he set into motion a series of events that continue to leave families in uncertainty and danger to this day. Congress must nullify this destructive policy and other policies that restrict the right to seek asylum and other human rights.

Congress must pass the NO BAN Act (H.R.2214), which would repeal all iterations of the Muslim ban, limit any president’s ability to discriminate on the basis of religion in the future; rescind the administration’s attempt to unlawfully limit the right of asylum at the U.S. border; and remove needless obstacles for refugees urgently in need of resettlement to a third country,

Congress must also pass the Eritrean Nationals’ Safety from Unjust Removal or Expulsion (ENSURE) Act (H.R.5767), which stops the ICE from deporting Eritreans fleeing state oppression by placing a two-year stay on removals; prohibiting the detention of Eritrean nationals during removal procedures; and requiring up-to-date reporting on Eritreans facing imminent removal.

The Trump administration’s travel bans will not make the U.S. safer for Africans seeking protection. On the contrary, these policies will continue to endanger thousands of African lives, tear families apart and drive people to desperation.

The policies abandon values long cherished by so many in the U.S. and which have been respected and admired by people around the world and have saved so many lives without endangering the United States.

Congress must reclaim that America.

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