Sometimes the Trump administration's immigration policy moves are as subtle as a baseball bat, but this past week the State Department produced as delicately nuanced a set of threats as a tapestry artist might have imagined.
The immigration issue: Too many nations do not accept their own misbehaving nationals when we want to deport them. This is perfectly rational on the part of the other nations because most of the people that the United States wants to deport are criminals, or losers, or both. The Eritrean government, for example, would understandably prefer that these people remain some place other than Eritrea.
Meanwhile, we cannot gain leverage by saying to the other government, OK we will not accept our citizens when you want to deport them, because Eritrea, for example, rarely has cause to deport an American. Further, as I learned from my colleague, Jessica Vaughan, a former Foreign Service officer, governments typically do not use other programs, such as the denial of or reduction of foreign assistance, as a tool in these matters.
The main tool used by the United States is to deny the issuance of visas to residents of the nation in question until it starts accepting its own repatriates. Such a move tends to hurt upper class residents of the foreign nation because it is only the more prosperous who seek to travel to the States.
The Obama administration, unenthusiastic as it was about deportations, generally, did not do much of this, but last week the Trump administration took on four nations that have refused for years to take back our deportees, causing us to release many of them back into the U.S. population.
The four nations are Cambodia, in Asia, and Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, in Africa. The differing levels of threats used to deny visas to the residents of those nations are shown in the table that follows.
Visa Denial Threats by Definition of Population Threatened (smallest to largest)
|Nation||Number of Refused Deportees||Who Is Denied Visas|
|Cambodia||1,900||B visas for a handful of high level diplomats (director generals and their families)|
|Sierra Leone||831||B visas for all foreign service and immigration officials|
|Guinea||2,131||B, F, J, and M visas for all government officials and their families|
|Eritrea||700||B visas for the entire population|
Note: B visas are for tourists, F for academic students, J for exchange visitors, and M for vocational students.
Either our government is not very worried about the 1,900 Cambodians we want to deport or it senses that a very minor threat can change the Cambodian government's posture on this issue. At the other end of the spectrum is Eritrea. We must either be very worried about some of those 700, or sense that a major threat — no B visas for anyone in that nation — is needed to get that government to cooperate.
The shading of the threat levels is interesting in and of itself. Perhaps State is experimenting with these levels of threats to determine what levels to use with the many other nations that have refused to take back their own nationals.
I was particularly intrigued by the reference to M visas, generally a small category, for Guinea (formerly a French colony on Africa's West Coast) as exactly one M visa was issued for that nation in the last four years and that was for the spouse or child of a vocational student, an M-2 visa, and that was back in 2013. Were M visas just added to the mix out of sense of completeness or did the post know, for example, that the justice minister's nephew had applied for one in order to secure flight training in the United States? We will never know.
For more on this see this DHS press release of September 13. DHS issued the release, but State wrote the new visa rules.