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White House Rules Would Restrict Foreign Travelers From Coming To U.S.


President Trump is once again looking to restrict foreign travelers from coming into the United States. Next week, the administration is expected to roll out an expanded travel ban, this time on seven new countries - most of them in Africa. Yesterday, officials unveiled a new rule as well that would deny visas to some pregnant women. NPR's John Burnett covers immigration. He's on the line with us to work through what this all means.

Hi, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey. Morning, David.

GREENE: Let's start with the new countries here? Which ones are the president adding?

BURNET: Well, the announcement that's expected next week would nearly double the current list of countries that have travel bans - seven additional ones. NPR's confirmed they're Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Eritrea in Africa, Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, Myanmar in Southeast Asia and Belarus in Eastern Europe. So you know, they're not just in one region or one religion.

And we don't yet know what kind of restrictions the U.S. would impose. They could vary from country to country. There could be constraints on government official visits, on student visas, on tourist visas. But we can expect the effect to be dramatic. I mean, immigrant visas fell by about 80% in Syria and Libya when they were slapped with travel bans earlier in the administration.

GREENE: All right. So you said we don't know the exact details, could be different country by country. But broadly, do we know why the president's doing this?

BURNET: Well, this is what Trump said about the expanding list during a presser in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this week.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our country has to be safe. You see what's going on in the world. Our country has to be safe. So we have a very strong travel ban, and we'll be adding a few countries to it.

BURNET: Yeah. Beyond that, not many specifics. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the restrictions are necessary, quote, "to mitigate threats from a small number of countries that lack either the will or the capability" to vet their citizens who travel to the U.S.

GREENE: OK. So that gives us a sense of what they're trying to do. I mean, these particular countries, though? I mean, have you been going through the list and and figuring out why they were chosen?

BURNET: Well, in the case of Kyrgyzstan, it appears to be a pressure tactic. Homeland Security's not happy that the country hasn't yet adopted biometric passports. These are passports with an embedded computer chip that has biometric data about the traveler that can authenticate their identity.

And then you have Eritrea, Sudan and Nigeria, where the administration knows they all have really high visa overstay rates for workers, tourists and students. So the new travel bans will have a big effect, especially in Nigeria, Africa's most populist country. In 2008, Nigerians got more than 200,000 temporary visas. Here's Dr. Yinka Tella. He's with the Nigerian American Foundation in Florida.

YINKA TELLA: We are very disappointed and outraged. Most Nigerian immigrants in the United States are professionals - doctors, engineers, lawyers - and we have contributed a lot to build the U.S. economy.

GREENE: And that gives us a preview of some the arguments we're probably going to hear if this decision goes forward from the president.


GREENE: Can I just ask, John, is this sort of the same as the president's first travel ban from when he came into office? We called it, you know, the Muslim ban.

BURNET: Exactly. Yeah. And as it turns out, Monday will be the third anniversary - to the day - when Trump announced that first travel ban just a few days into, you know, his administration. That executive order originally covered several majority Muslim countries, but the administration hadn't really thought it through. Remember - immigration agents at airports were caught flat-footed. There were huge crowds of travelers and protesters and just lots of confusion at international airports.

Then came the lawsuits. The plaintiffs argued that Trump had it out for Muslims. And ultimately, it was the Supreme Court that allowed Trump to keep his travel ban against the existing list - Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, Chad and Yemen. And now with the new travel ban, there'd be a total of 15 countries on the White House's blacklist.

GREENE: And John, this other immigration policy change was announced by the White House yesterday regarding what they call birth tourism. What is that?

BURNET: Yeah. This was another big change in the immigration policy. So it comes from the State Department. Officials will no longer issue temporary visitor visas to pregnant women that they determine they want to enter the country to have a baby here. Having a baby in the U.S. secures automatic citizenship for the newborn.

And this has always incensed some conservatives. They don't believe in birthright citizenship. Trump has called it ridiculous. Some hardliners have called these children anchor babies, a controversial term.

R.J. Hauman is with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which wants less immigration.

RJ HAUMAN: What they're trying to do, though, here is this isn't getting the Supreme Court, essentially, to rule on birthright citizenship as it exists. It's just empowering consular officials abroad to be able to screen people out that are strictly coming to abuse our immigration system.

BURNET: So the new rule that takes effect today could affect thousands of pregnant women seeking visas. Critics say this rule and the expanded travel ban are just more examples of Trump's xenophobia, his latest move to shut the door to all kinds of immigrants - whether asylum-seekers, refugees or visa applicants.

GREENE: NPR's John Burnett. John, thanks.

BURNET: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.