The Trump administration has hit certain government officials from Burma and Laos with visa sanctions as punishment for both countries’ refusal to take back their citizens the U.S. is trying to deport, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Tuesday.
Going forward, the U.S. embassy in Rangoon, Burma, will halt the issuance of tourist and business non-immigrant visas to senior officials in the ministries of Labor, Immigration, Population and Home Affairs. In Laos, the U.S. mission will no longer grant tourist and business non-immigrant visas to senior officials from the Laotian Ministry of Public Security.
The restrictions also apply to the officials’ immediate families, DHS said.
The sanctions come after a review by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who determined that Burma and Laos have “denied or unreasonably delayed” accepting citizens ordered removed from the U.S. They will remain in place until Nielsen notifies Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that cooperation on deportees has improved, according to DHS.
“The decision to sanction a recalcitrant country is not taken lightly,” the department said in a statement. “DHS makes significant efforts, in collaboration with the State Department, to encourage countries to accept the prompt, lawful return of their nationals who are subject to removal from the United States. Those efforts include diplomatic communications at the highest level of government.”
Tuesday’s announcement is not the first time the Trump administration has resorted to the use of visa sanctions against countries that don’t cooperate on deportations. Washington slapped Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cambodia in 2017 with varying levels of visa restrictions after then-acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke named all four as recalcitrant countries. (State Department Slaps Visa Restrictions On Countries That Won’t Take Back Deportees)
Although the immigration code allows U.S. authorities apply visa sanctions on countries that refuse to take back their citizens, the punishment had rarely been used before the Trump administration. Until 2017, Washington had resorted to visa sanctions against non-accepting countries just twice — Guyana in 2001 and then Gambia in 2016.
The Trump administration has put heavy diplomatic pressure on countries that resist accepting deportees and has been able to convince some to become more cooperative. Since January 2017, DHS has removed eight countries — including Iraq and Somalia — from a list of recalcitrant countries maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The 12 nations still on the list as of last July were China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Iran, Cambodia, Burma, Morocco, Hong Kong, South Sudan, Guinea and Eritrea.
A Supreme Court decision, Zadvydas v. Davis, prevents the government from holding aliens with final orders of removal beyond six months if there is no “significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future.” ICE says it has had to release Burmese and Laotian nationals into the U.S. because neither country has an established process for issuing travel documents to their citizens who’ve been ordered removed.
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