- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2020

The Trump administration announced Friday it has stopped issuing most types of visas to Burundi citizens, slapping the central African nation with some of the stiffest penalties ever for refusing to cooperate in taking back its deportees.

Acting Homeland Security Chad Wolf said he had flagged Burundi under Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, triggering automatic sanctions by the State Department.

He said the government tries to avoid such a serious penalty, but Burundi’s refusal to cooperate left no choice.

As of last week, the U.S. embassy in Burundi stopped issuing all but a handful of diplomatic and other international organization visas to citizens.

“This announcement is about ensuring the safety of the American people and upholding the rule of law,” Mr. Wolf said. “Given that Burundi has failed to cooperate with the United States on these serious matters of immigration and public safety, we have no choice but to impose sanctions.”

He said he hoped Burundi’s new leader, President Evariste Ndayishimiye, would improve cooperation so the sanctions could be lifted.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it’s holding five Burundi citizens in custody, and about 500 others who’ve been ordered deported are on ICE’s non-detained docket. Last year, Burundi accepted back just five deportees, and it took just 14 in 2018.

An inquiry with the Burundi embassy was not answered.

Usually when the government triggers section 243(d) it stops issuing short-term tourist or business visas to government officials and sometimes their families.

But in the case of Burundi, the U.S. now has halted almost all visas, going well beyond those B1/B2 categories short-term visitor visas to cut off student visas, guest-worker visas and others. The only exceptions are visas for diplomats and those coming as part of work with international organizations such as the U.N.

Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the hefty penalties are an escalation.

“It could be that they are not satisfied with the results for banning just the short-term business and tourism visas in the other countries, so they want it to stick in Burundi,” she said.

She said it could also be tied to President Trump’s coronavirus proclamation that allows broad penalties against countries that refuse to take back their people amid the pandemic because of fears of COVID-19.

As of February, just before the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. had less strict sanctions in place against Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Burma, Cambodia Laos and Eritrea, according to the Congressional Research Service. In the case of Eritrea, the ban on B1/B2 visas had applied to all citizens, not just government officials.

On April 1, the U.S. quietly expanded its visa blockade in Laos to nearly all visas, according to the American embassy.

Getting other countries to take back deportees had been a bright spot for the Trump administration, which cut the number of recalcitrant countries from 23 in 2015 to nine as of late 2018. By early this year that number had ticked up to 10 countries: Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Eritrea, India, Iran, Laos, Pakistan and Vietnam. Hong Kong is also listed separately as recalcitrant.

The number of countries deemed at risk of becoming recalcitrant was cut from 62 to 23 as of the start of this year, according to the Congressional Research Service.

China, Cuba and Vietnam have traditionally been the biggest offenders in refusing to take back their deportees.

The Trump administration is debating whether to slap sanctions on China.

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