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The Trump administration added six additional countries to its widely controversial travel ban. Among the countries included is Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
This executive order won’t take effect until February 22 but many within the Nigerian community are worried. Nigeria’s top diplomat was “somewhat blindsided” by the ban. While he works with American officials to lift visa restrictions, many wonder what the fallout of these restrictions will be.
We will speak to a few members of the local Nigerian community and get their thoughts on immigration, identity and how the travel ban affects them.
Produced by Richard Cunningham
- Carmel Delshad Editor and reporter; @cdelshad
- Pa Martins A Nigerian retiree living in Montgomery County
- Temi Ibirogba Program and Research Associate, Center for International Policy
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. On January 27th, 2017, President Trump signed a widely controversial executive order implementing the first phase of a travel ban. This ban restricted immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries like Iraq, Iran, Syria and Somalia from getting immigrant visas and moving through the diversity visa lottery. Now, the White House has added six additional countries to the list, like Eritrea, Myanmar and Nigeria.
KOJO NNAMDIThis ban came as a surprise to Nigeria's top diplomat, but he has been assured by American officials that visa restrictions could be lifted soon. This second wave goes into effect until February 22nd. So, how is the local Nigerian-American community in the D.C. region reacting to the news? Joining me in studio is Carmel Delshad. She is a reporter and editor here at WAMU. Carmel, good to see you.
CARMEL DELSHADThanks for having me.
NNAMDIWhat was the White House's justification for expanding the travel ban, and why Nigeria, in particular?
DELSHADOf course. So, the White House said that the countries that were listed, six of them didn't comply with certain information, security and sharing requirements. Specifically for Nigeria, the questions were about established identity management systems and information sharing on passports. Things like expired passports or fraudulent ones, the DHS wanted to make sure that people were being able to send correct information over if there were issues with passports. So, this is part of the reason why, for Nigeria in particular, the Department of Homeland Security issued this travel ban.
NNAMDII should mention that the travel ban goes into effect on February 22nd, as opposed to it lasting until February 22nd. That's when it goes into effect. What did you learn in your reporting when you spent time with Nigerians who live in this area?
DELSHADIt was interesting. I went to a church service, and then a Mosque in the same day. And the responses were kind of what you would expect and similar to what happened with the first travel ban, though I do think that there was a lot of misinformation in this current round. There is a bit of lead time before this travel ban takes effect on the 22nd. There were a lot of questions. People were asking me, do you think I can get into the country, or my husband will be able to come in or follow me? There were a lot of emotions, as you might expect as well. And mostly people were just wondering why. Why did this happen?
DELSHADFolks I spoke with at the mosque believe that there was anti-Muslim animus in there, though I should say the government has said that there was no animus or bias against any particular country, region, race or religion as part of these, that this was merely a security issue.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Temi Ibirogba, a Nigerian-American working as the program and research associate for the Africa Program at the Center for International Policy. Temi, thank you for joining us.
TEMI IBIROGBAThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou were born and raised here in the U.S. What connection do you feel to Nigeria?
IBIROGBAYes, I was Nigerian, and, like you said, I was born here in D.C.
NNAMDIAnd of Nigerian parents?
IBIROGBAYes. My parents are Nigerian. Both are Nigerian.
NNAMDIWhat does being a Nigerian-American mean to you?
IBIROGBASo, for me, personally, being Nigerian means that I'm lucky enough to have been raised with an international perspective on the world. I have family that lives in the UK and Nigeria and here in America. So, I was really born into a life that's surrounded by culture.
NNAMDIDo you think there are misconceptions about the Nigerian Diaspora here in the U.S.?
IBIROGBAYeah, I definitely do think that there are a lot of misconceptions. I think depending on who you're talking to, as well. So, there are a lot of people who are aware of the fact that Nigerians are one of the most highly educated immigrant groups in the country. But then you have other people who aren't aware of that. Sixty percent of Nigerians living in the U.S. actually have a Bachelor's or advanced degree, which is twice the percentage of the American population with those types of degrees.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone is Pa Martins, a Nigerian retiree living in Montgomery County. Pa Martins, thank you very much for joining us.
PA MARTINSThank you, too, Kojo.
NNAMDIWhen did you emigrate to America, and why did you choose to emigrate to America?
MARTINSGood questions. That was during John F. Kennedy, during the Peace Corps. They used to send some people from here to Africa to come and teach us in high school. And that is where I got involved with this country and the quality of people that were sent there then. (unintelligible) So, I made up my mind then, if I don't come to this country, I stay over in Africa. But my answer was accepted. I was (word?) here, and I don't regret it.
NNAMDIYou settled in Montgomery County. What was that experience like? Have you found Montgomery County to be a welcoming community for you?
MARTINSWell, I come here twice. I was here in '66. I went back '73. I came back in '99. I came back in '99 because (unintelligible) here with my grandchildren (unintelligible) at home with my wife (unintelligible) so I have to -- and I teach here (unintelligible) family. That's why I'm here. (unintelligible) is fantastic, and we have a good community (unintelligible) I forgot the name right now. I should (unintelligible) in our community here (unintelligible) in Montgomery County right now.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Pa Martins. Pa Martins is a Nigerian retiree living in Montgomery County. You are also a member of the organization, Nigerians in the Diaspora Organization. It's an international organization that represents the interests of Nigerians in the Diaspora. They had a statement on the travel ban -- that is, the D.C. chapter. It reads: “The Nigerian travel ban decision by the United States government came as a shock to all Nigerians in the Diaspora in the Washington metro area. People are still processing the effects of this policy.
NNAMDIDespite the positive contributions Nigerians have made towards the economic growth of the nation, the community is fearful, confused and sad that such drastic measures would be warranted. Nigerians are peaceful, law-abiding citizens and want to do the right thing. We collectively reject the ban. We are hoping the U.S. government will reconsider its decision because of the negative impact it will have on millions of hardworking folks around the globe.” I'd like to start with you, Temi. What did you feel or what did you think when you first heard about this ban on immigration from Nigeria?
IBIROGBAYeah. So, my initial reaction was definitely confusion, because in a 2019 speech in the Rose Garden, Trump actually said that he wanted to switch the U.S.'s immigration system to one that was more merit-based. So, this would, you know, favor people with advance degrees, other people coming to join family members already in the U.S. So, it was quite confusing to then see, you know, Nigeria selected as a country.
IBIROGBAAnd, in addition to that, you know, Nigeria is Africa's largest economy. (word?) Africa, which is a U.S.-Africa foreign policy plan, they want to increase -- the Trump Administration wants to increase economic ties with the continent. So, by banning the largest economy in Africa, that also is, you know, quite confusing.
NNAMDIPa Martins, what was your initial reaction on hearing about this latest ban?
IBIROGBAYeah, my (unintelligible) of U.S. government right now is not deportation. And (unintelligible) and I believe, for any of us, as long as I've been here, (unintelligible) and there's nothing (unintelligible). And, to me, it's just lack of knowledge of the fellow that is there today, holding this nation. And we'll pray that this will not stay very long.
NNAMDICarmel Delshad, what was the sentiment you got from Nigerians and Nigerian-Americans you talked to? What was their reaction?
DELSHADYeah, I believe, again, to echo what the guests said, most people were definitely shocked. It came out of left field for them. They didn't expect Nigeria to be on the ban again, pointing to all of the positives that the Nigerian community brings: education, economic, development, things like that.
DELSHADAnd not to underscore how many people we have in the region, about 25, 26,000 living in the D.C. region from Nigeria. And the worry that rights groups have is that people will not be able to be reunited with their loved ones, because this is an immigration ban. This is not just about traveling back and forth. It is about people being able to permanently settle in the United States.
NNAMDIAnd I have to say that the Nigerian ambassador to the United States, after meeting with State Department officials, sounded a bit more optimistic that they can get this ban lifted pretty soon, once they deal with some security issues in Nigeria. But let's go to the phones. Here is Dada, in Washington, D.C. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DADAThank you very much. I want to pick up on that point that the ambassador (unintelligible). I was in the first (unintelligible) back home (unintelligible) government. This issue has been going on for a while, that (unintelligible) security. (unintelligible). Okay? But, at the same token, again, I believe the decision is just too harsh, because (unintelligible) Nigerians here. Influence is very, very deep with the United States, you know.
DADAMy own children are medical doctors here, you know, general surgeons. My daughter call me, daddy, daddy, what's going on? You know, banning us and all that. You don't ban Nigerians like that. We are very, very responsible, educated people, you know. I believe it should have been done on a diplomatic level instead of banning the whole population of over 200 million people from coming to the United States. I don't think it's proper. And I believe, as soon as possible, you can resume that, it would be very good.
NNAMDIDo you think that the security concerns of the United States are warranted?
DADAYeah, the security concerns should have been addressed diplomatically. That's why I said I blame the (unintelligible) government, because what happened is that (unintelligible) part of Nigeria (unintelligible) and everybody that's coming. And, as a result, that's part of the problem we have (unintelligible) influence in Nigeria, causing trouble now.
DADAThe United States government sees that, they say, well, that border's not tight enough. I don't blame the U.S. government for that. I blame (unintelligible) government for that. That should have been addressed long ago. And I think this will expose the U.S. government to the fact that they should have to do something about it.
NNAMDITemi Ibirogba, I'd like to hear your view on the security concerns expressed by the United States.
IBIROGBAYes. I think the security concerns are, once again, another confusing aspect. You know, you have Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, but they don't really have the capacity, as a terrorist organization, to attack the United States. And between, you know, the '70s and now, there's only been one Nigerian terrorist that was found on U.S. ground, and that was the underwear bomber. So, you know, in terms of security, Nigerians don't pose a massive threat to the U.S.
NNAMDIHere is, now, Ned in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ned, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NEDHey, thank you. I'm a former Peace Corps volunteer, and now on the board of the Friends of Nigeria, which are former Peace Corps volunteers and others. I have a quick comment to make, and that is, I've always been impressed that the Nigerian migrants in America have about one of the highest average incomes and highest levels of education of any migrant group.
NEDBut my question is about Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's article in the Washington Post, which basically has, as a title and as a story, that Trump trashes Nigerians. And many Nigerians love it, in the sense of they love a fellow who speaks his mind. And even if he denigrates Nigeria, he's saying it like it is, and he's resilient. I wondered if your panel has any comments on that article.
NNAMDIIndeed, Temi and Pa, in an interview with NPR's Audi Cornish, there was a Nigerian writer who pointed to a statistic that said that six in 10 Nigerians favor President Trump. First you, Temi. What is your feeling about that? What is your response to that?
IBIROGBAYeah, I definitely have seen that sentiment expressed. I've heard people say that they enjoy the fact that Trump is a nationalist, and they think that the leader of a country should have that, you know, type of viewpoint when creating policy for their country. So, that's definitely sentiment I've seen. But, at the same time, there are a lot of people that do think this new ban just has a lot of racial undertones.
NNAMDIAnd, for you, Pa Martins, that was a Pew Research Center poll that found six out of 10 Nigerians have confidence in President Trump. Why do you think he's so popular with Nigerians?
MARTINSI don't think so. (unintelligible) Nigeria. I come back to the security issue, which is something I want to chip in on. We're having problem occur in (unintelligible) is not ruling well. Whenever I was (unintelligible) have a mind of their own, to do things on their own, they ignore the positions of (unintelligible). That's why I don't see any wall right now. And then if (unintelligible) within 2023, Nigeria might split. But we have been pushing in the south, and we're hoping that the Western world will come in and find out what is going on.
NNAMDIWell, there was a split once before in the 1960s that led to a war with Biafra, so one hopes that that kind of thing does not ever happen in Nigeria again.
MARTINSWe are praying for that, too, but the tension is high right now (unintelligible) the tension is higher, every day. They always kill the Christian and the Muslim, but I don't believe (unintelligible) law, you know. (unintelligible)
NNAMDICarmel Delshad, did any of the Nigerian-Americans you interviewed here share the State Department's concerns about security in Nigeria? Because in the articles that I've reading, quite a few Nigerians seem to be very critical of the Nigerian government's approach to security.
DELSHADRight. One person I spoke with was a security analyst himself, though cybersecurity. And he did say, of course there are security concerns that the country should work on, and those that are highlighted certainly by the travel ban should certainly be worked on ASAP. But, again, there's a lot of skepticism about placing a ban on an entire country.
DELSHADMany countries, again, in Africa, several of them with large Muslim populations and the real reasoning behind that, one person in particular said, you know, he wonders if this is actually a way to get less Africans into America. And, again, the U.S. government says there is no animus or bias against any particular region, race, religion or country.
NNAMDIHere now is Cofi in Alexandria, Virginia. Cofi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
COFIThank you very much, Kojo. Good work. What I have to say is, every American, whether you are born here or became a citizen, the next general elections, you have to vote. The current administration's policies, you don't have to be a brain scientist to decode their message to the world. It's just hate, period. It's pure and simple. There is nothing about (unintelligible) and all that. It's hate. They hate people who don't look like them, Trump and his allies. I want people to register, take interest, and vote in November, please. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Temi, President Trump's comments in the past about so called s-hole countries resound, to a large extent, with people from those countries. To what extent, do you think, that this ban on immigration from Nigeria falls into that category, so to speak?
IBIROGBAYes, I definitely think that there are racial undertones in this ban. The fact that, you know, four out of the six countries selected are based in Africa, you know, 25 percent of Africa's population is going to be affected by this. So, I think there's no way to deny that there is a racial undertone to this.
NNAMDIAnd for you, Pa Martins, how do you feel about that?
MARTINSWell, we have so many (unintelligible) Obama (unintelligible) they need a good example. And I thought Trump should have learned from that. All the good work that gentleman did for eight years, he rubbished off. So, we're going back again, as we have in the Bush regimes. So, yes. According to that gentleman who just talked to you, everybody should go and register. (unintelligible) city and for the government.
NNAMDITemi, is this something that you felt could have been settled at the diplomatic level, without the need for a ban?
IBIROGBAYeah, I definitely think it could've been settled at the diplomatic level. And I think that's a testimony to the strained relations that the U.S. has with Africa. You have other countries that are engaging with African leaders diplomatically, but the U.S. really hasn't taken that stance, you know. And, post-9/11, there's a lot of military people on the African continent, far outnumber diplomatic members. And Trump's administration specifically took such a long time to appoint ambassadors to their respective African countries. So, it's just reflective of the neglect that he showcased towards the African nations.
NNAMDIBefore we go, I'd like to get in Adjubula Abdula in Washington. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADJUBULA ABDULAYes, hello. My comment is this. Trump is racist, okay? (unintelligible) I'm 61 years old. I have a medical doctor in my family. My daughter is a medical doctor. I have a daughter who is a lawyer. It is (unintelligible) Africa from coming to this country. And he know Nigeria is an (unintelligible) immigrants of the United States. And in multiplying with the African-Americans here, we going to be in the majority soon. That is why he did what he did.
NNAMDIActually, you get the last word, Adjubula. Thank you very much for your call. Pa Martins, thank you very much for joining us.
MARTINSThank you for having me.
NNAMDITemi Ibirogba, thank you very much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Carmel Delshad is a reporter at WAMU. Carmel, always a pleasure.
DELSHADThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIThis segment on the Nigerian Diaspora was produced by Richard Cunningham. And our conversation about dual purpose businesses was produced by Victoria Chamberlin. Get ready for the next Kojo In Your Community conversation. We'll talk about changing immigration rules and their impact on local students and families. It's on February 25th at the Columbia Heights educational campus. Learn how to get tickets and more at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIAnd join us tomorrow, when we find out why military families at Fort Meade are suing their landlords. Plus, the host of WAMU's new Dating While Gray podcast joins us to talk about dating, love and sex for those over 50. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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