Expansion of immigration restrictions draws protest in Minneapolis

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Opponents of the Trump administration’s restrictions on immigration
Opponents of an expansion of the Trump administration’s restrictions on immigration gathered Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020 outside the federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Opponents of an expansion of the Trump administration’s restrictions on immigration gathered Saturday outside the federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.

Federal officials said Friday that immigrants from Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania will face new restrictions in obtaining certain visas to come to the United States. But it is not a total travel ban, unlike President Trump’s earlier effort that generated outrage around the world for targeting Muslims.

Trump signed a proclamation on the restrictions Friday; they go into effect Feb. 21. Officials said the six countries failed to meet minimum security standards, as part of an election-year push to further clamp down on immigration.

The several dozen opponents who gathered in Minneapolis said the expanded restrictions are counter-productive and unfair.

Minnesota is home to thousands of refugees from Myanmar, including what’s believed to be the nation’s largest Karen community.

Veena Iyer is executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. She said the new measures would separate more families.

"And make no mistake. This policy will deprive our economy of the workers it desperately needs," she said at Saturday's rally. "It cannot be allowed to go into effect, and the Muslim ban, overall, has to to be repealed."

Makram El-Amin is imam at Masjid An-Nur, a mosque in north Minneapolis. He said the restrictions target Muslim and African immigrants.

"We will not stop resisting these unfair policies that are being put into place by an administration that really is working to diminish the diversity in this country and ... take us away from the spirit of the ideals of what America stands to be," he said.

Rumors swirled for weeks about a potential new ban, and initially Belarus was considered. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to the Eastern European nation as the restrictions were announced, and Belarus was not on the list.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Homeland Security officials would work with the countries on bolstering their security requirements to help them work to get off the list. Wolf said some nations were able to comply with the new standards in time.

“These countries for the most part want to be helpful, they want to do the right thing, they have relationships with the U.S., but for a variety of different reasons failed to meet those minimum requirements,” Wolf said.

The current restrictions follow Trump’s travel ban, which the Supreme Court upheld as lawful in 2018. They are significantly softer than Trump’s initial ban, which had suspended travel from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen for 90 days, blocked refugee admissions for 120 days, and suspended travel from Syria. The government suspended most immigrant and nonimmigrant visas to applicants from those countries. Exceptions are available for students and those with “significant contacts” in the U.S.

Trump has said a travel ban is necessary to protect Americans. But opponents have argued that he seeks to target Muslim countries, pointing to comments he made as a candidate in 2015 calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Wolf said officials examined countries for compliance with minimum standards for identification and information-sharing, and assessed whether countries properly tracked terrorism or public safety risks. Officials looked at whether countries used modern passports, shared information that the U.S. could validate on travelers and identified possible criminal suspects in a way that the U.S. could see before entry. They evaluated responses and ranked nations.

Government agencies then discussed whether countries had different, but important, contacts with the U.S. and then decided on restrictions.

“Really the only way to mitigate the risk is to impose these travel restrictions,” Wolf said.

David Bier, an immigration policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank, said the expansion had no foundation and had “even less of a rational basis than all its prior iterations."

“This list of nations has no foundation in the security factors on which it was supposed to based,” he said. “It’s just another arbitrary exercise designed to keep out legal immigrants.”