The US State Department is seen on Nov 29, 2010 in Washington, DC. The US State Department is set to stop issuing certain kinds of visas to some citizens of Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone starting Sept 14, 2017 because the nations are not taking back their citizens the US wants to deport. (NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP)
WASHINGTON – The US State Department on Wednesday will stop issuing certain kinds of visas to some citizens of Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone because the nations are not taking back their citizens the United States wants to deport.
The new policies, laid out in State Department cables reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday and described in a department news briefing, are the latest example of US President Donald Trump's effort to crack down on immigrants who are in the United States illegally.
The Secretary (Rex Tillerson) determines the categories of applicants subject to the visa restrictions, and the categories differ slightly country by country.
Heather Nauert, Spokeswoman, US State Department
The cables, sent by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to consular officials around the world, said the four countries were "denying or unreasonably delaying" the return of their citizens, and that visa restrictions would be lifted in a country if it accepted its deportees.
"The Secretary determines the categories of applicants subject to the visa restrictions, and the categories differ slightly country by country," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in the news briefing on Tuesday.
The visa sanctions vary in severity, with Eritrea facing the harshest ones. Any Eritreans who apply in their own country for most US business or tourist visas will be rejected, according to one of the cables.
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In Guinea, the United States will no longer issue a range of tourist, business and student visas to government officials and their immediate family members who apply from inside the country, another cable said.
"We are all surprised by the American authorities' decision but the foreign minister is at this moment working so that the situation returns to normal," Guinea government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara told Reuters.
"It must be understood that Guinea has never wanted to prevent the repatriation of its nationals who are in conflict with American law."
In Cambodia, the sanction is tailored. Only Foreign Ministry employees at or above the rank of director general, and their families, who apply inside the country will be barred from getting some visas for personal travel, a third cable said.
For Sierra Leone, only Foreign Ministry and immigration officials will be denied tourist and business visas at the US Embassy in Freetown, according to a fourth cable.
Young immigrants, activists and supporters of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program march through downtown Los Angeles, California on Sept 5, 2017 after the Trump administration formally announced it will end the program. The US State Department is set to stop issuing certain kinds of visas to some citizens of Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone starting Sept 14, 2017 because the nations are not taking back their citizens the US wants to deport. (FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP)
"American citizens have been harmed because foreign governments refuse to take back their citizens," Thomas Homan, acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a Department of Homeland Security statement.
In each case, there are exceptions for citizens of the four nations who apply for visas from outside their countries, as well as exceptions on humanitarian grounds or for travel "deemed in the interest of the United States."
The new rules, which go into effect on Wednesday, do not affect visas that already have been granted.
Three of the four countries included in the current visa restrictions – Cambodia, Guinea, and Eritrea – were on a July list of nations deemed "recalcitrant" by US immigration authorities. It was unclear immediately why Sierra Leone was included in Tuesday's action even though it was not on the "recalcitrant" list in July.
Protestors rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA outside the offices of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Sept 5, 2017, in Cincinnati. (JOHN MINCHILLO / AP)
ICE has had to release roughly 2,137 Guineans and 831 Sierra Leone nationals, many with "serious criminal convictions," the DHS statement said. In addition, around 700 Eritreans and more than 1,900 Cambodians are living in the US who have been ordered removed, DHS said.
DHS officials say in some cases, the agency has had no choice but to release convicted criminals who served prison time but could not be returned to their home country because it refused to take them back.