Even if President Trump can’t convince the courts to approve his extreme vetting executive order, he may have another tool at his disposal that would allow him to strip visas from some of the seven countries he’s trying to target, crackdown supporters say.
A federal law says the government can stop issuing visas to countries that are deemed “uncooperative” because they refuse to take back their citizens when the U.S. tries to deport them. At least five of the seven countries Mr. Trump is targeting — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Sudan — are already on that list, according to new data obtained by the Immigration Reform Law Institute.
All Mr. Trump would have to do is have his Homeland Security Department secretary issue an official notification about those countries, and the State Department would immediately halt visas, IRLI says.
“Each of these countries either cannot or are unwilling to take back their citizens, all of whom have either violated our immigration laws or committed crimes against our own. For that reason alone, the Trump administration can and should put a complete halt to their visa privileges. In fact, the law requires it,” said Ian Smith, investigative associate at the IRLI.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have used the tool before, but never on more than one country, and not as part of a crackdown on potential terrorism.
Mr. Trump, however, is searching for new options after federal courts halted most of his Jan. 27 extreme vetting executive order, which tried to pause the refugee program and halt all admissions from seven terrorist-connected countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The president huddled with his attorney general and homeland security secretary Tuesday afternoon to try to figure out his next steps. He has hinted that he would release a new executive order designed to meet some of the courts’ objections.
But he may not even need to go that far to achieve his goal of shutting down admissions to visitors from seven terrorist-connected countries, if he instead triggers Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act — the part of the law that allows him to punish uncooperative countries.
Some 22 countries are on the list, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Cuba, the biggest violator, refused to take back more than 600 criminals through the first nine months of the last fiscal year. Cape Verde, meanwhile, just came off the list after reaching an understanding with Homeland Security last month that will facilitate the deportation of 450 people.
Of the terrorist-connected countries Mr. Trump is focused on, Iran refused to take back 29 criminals, while Iraq declined 33 and Sudan refused 15. Somalia refused 25 criminals and 144 noncriminals. Libya refused one criminal and one noncriminal but is still on the list.
Syria and Yemen — the two others that round out Mr. Trump’s targets — aren’t on the list, but Mr. Smith said that’s likely because the U.S. doesn’t even have a working embassy in those countries, so it can’t work on arranging travel documents anyway.
Several immigrant rights groups who have been at the forefront of fighting Mr. Trump’s extreme vetting policy did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday on whether he could use his 243(d) powers as a workaround.
For now immigrants whose countries won’t take them back are released into the U.S. — including those with serious criminal records.
They are considered to be under the supervision of immigration agents but are given work permits so they can support themselves, Mr. Smith said.
The situation gained attention in 2015 after the government released a Haitian man, Jean Jacques, who had served time for attempted murder in the U.S. but whose country refused to take him back. Months later he stabbed to death a young woman, Casey Chadwick, after feuding with her boyfriend over drugs.
An inspector general’s review found that ICE agents didn’t do all they could to get Haiti to take Jacques back — including failing to trigger the visa punishment called for in federal law.
Mr. Trump, in one of his first executive orders, vowed to start making broader use of the visa sanctions.
The 243(d) power has only been triggered twice before. The Bush administration used it in 2001 on Guyana, which quickly came into compliance, taking back 112 of the 113 immigrants who’d built up in the backlog.
Despite that success, the Bush and Obama administrations turned away from the tool for the next 15 years, saying they preferred diplomacy. Finally, in October 2016, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Gambia was recalcitrant, and triggered the punishment again.
Gambian officials said late last year that they quickly moved to come into compliance, but as of this week the country is still on Homeland Security’s uncooperative list.
An ICE official said the visa penalties remain in place until the homeland security secretary deems the country has come into compliance.