GOP Congressman Almost Left the House Because of a Visa

By David North on May 27, 2018

[Note: On May 28 Rep. Garrett, citing alcoholism, withdrew his candidacy for re-election.]

There's a somewhat under-reported story of a Republican member of the House of Representatives who almost left the House because of a visa not being issued to a small child from Senegal.

The Roanoke Times provided the best coverage of the immigration aspects of the story involving the freshman GOP congressman from Virginia's largely rural Fifth Congressional District, and the rumor that he was not going to run for re-election because of his frustrations with the Department of Homeland Security.

He is Rep. Tom Garrett, a conservative member of the House. He apparently is still running for re-election in a generally red district, though the district did have a Democratic member for two years (2009-2011). There was some discussion of his abandoning the GOP nomination and leaving the race.

Why was he going to give up a pretty safe seat in the House? According to the Roanoke paper:

If someone were to tell you that a member of Congress was going to hold a news conference to attack the Trump Administration’s Secretary of Homeland Security for repeatedly ignoring his requests to grant a visa for an African immigrant, let’s face it, you would not expect that congressman to be a conservative Republican from the rural South. But that’s exactly what happened.

What Garrett wanted appears to be reasonable. A rather prominent constituent, Joanne Boyle, the coach of women's basketball at the University of Virginia, had rescued the two-year-old Ngoty (no other name was provided) from an orphanage in Senegal that offered just one meal a day to the children under its care. Boyle wanted to adopt the child; she got clearance, not always easy, from the local authorities, but had taken 14 trips, according to the paper, to Senegal to try to arrange with U.S. officials for Ngoty's tourist visa to become an orphan's visa.

There remain a number of mysteries in the case.

  1. One might think that a well-to-do sports coach (she was paid $700,000 a year) would have been able to hire a smart immigration attorney to handle the matter.
  2. One might think if you are in Congress, and the guy from the adjacent seat (Rep. Bob Goodlatte) was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, you would ask your fellow party member to lobby for you. (We don't know if this happened; maybe they do not get along with each other.)
  3. One might think that a GOP member of the cabinet would respond to any GOP member of the House on such a subject, but apparently not.
  4. Maybe Garrett was aiming his pitches to DHS when he should have been addressing the State Department, which is the agency that issues visas, DHS does not do that.
  5. Maybe there was some obscure obstacle to the proposed adoption; perhaps the child had an infectious disease of some kind, perhaps there was doubt that the child was eligible for adoption, or maybe adoptions from Senegal have special complications. In 2017 there were 3,159 visas issued to two different categories of orphans world-wide according to State Department records. In short, maybe the government was right.
  6. Maybe, though it should not matter, Boyle did not handle our consular officers in Senegal very well.
  7. Or maybe the DHS leadership really fouled up what should have been an easy one, and that really irritated a Republican congressman (who probably had some other frustrations as well.)

We will probably never know.

Topics: Politics