The Trump administration hit four countries with visa sanctions Wednesday as punishment for refusing to take back their citizens that U.S. is trying to deport.
In a series of diplomatic cables obtained by Reuters, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined new visa restrictions on Eritrea, Cambodia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The countries are among a dozen that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had previously deemed “recalcitrant” in the repatriation of criminal aliens.
The four countries are “denying or unreasonably delaying” the return of their citizens from the U.S., and visa restrictions will only be lifted if they begin normal acceptance of deportees, according to Tillerson’s orders.
Eritrea faces the toughest sanctions of the four countries. Going forward, all Eritreans who apply in their own country for most U.S. business or tourist visas will be rejected, according to one of the cables.
In Guinea, all government officials and family members will be denied business, tourist and student visas. For Sierra Leone, only foreign ministry and immigration officials will be denied tourist and business visas.
Cambodia faces the lightest sanctions. Only foreign Ministry employees at or above the rank of director general and their families will be refused visas, according to one of the cables.
The possibility of visa sanctions was first reported by the Washington Times in August. At the time, DHS officials confirmed that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke had signed letters identifying four countries as deserving of punishment for refusing to cooperate on deportations. The letters triggered a section of immigration law that requires the State Department to formulate sanctions on offending countries.
Although the immigration code allows U.S. authorities apply visa sanctions on countries that refuse to take back their citizens, the punishment is rarely used. Since 2000, the U.S. has resorted to visa sanctions against non-accepting countries just twice — against Guyana in 2001 and the Gambia last year, according to Reuters.
The Trump administration has put heavy diplomatic pressure on countries that resist accepting deportees. Since January, DHS has removed eight countries — including Iraq and Somalia — from a list of 20 that are considered habitual offenders.
As of July, the 12 nations still on the list were China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Iran, Cambodia, Burma, Morocco, Hong Kong, South Sudan, Guinea and Eritrea.
The State Department has declined to comment publicly on the visa sanctions, and it remains unclear why Sierra Leone was sanctioned despite not being one of the 12 recalcitrant countries.
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