Omar implores DHS to rescind visa sanctions enacted under Trump administration

Omar's letter claims the continued sanctions "tear families apart" and unjustly deport "asylum seekers" back to their homeland.

Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks with Bernie Sanders supporters at a campaign office in Las Vegas in February 2020. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Rep. Ilhan Omar and 10 other members of Congress have sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requesting the removal of Trump-era visa sanctions.

The letter expresses “deep concerns” about DHS’s “continued implementation of 243(d) visa sanctions” first enacted by the Trump administration in 2017. The sanctions targeted mostly sub-Saharan African and Southeast Asian countries, with the current list including Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Eritrea, and Laos.

Omar’s letter claims the continued sanctions “tear families apart” and unjustly deport “asylum seekers” back to their homeland, where they ostensibly await possible “harm and torture” from their government.

“The 243(d) sanctions aggressively bully foreign governments into repatriating removable asylum seekers and refugees, despite the asylum seekers and refugees often having little or no ties to the current iteration of the country,” the letter reads. “The delays and outright refusal to issue travel documents by some of these countries prevent further harm to asylum seekers who face bodily harm and torture, were they to be deported back to countries like Eritrea or Laos.”

Characterizing the visa sanctions as a “deportation crisis,” Omar and the other members of Congress call on DHS to lift those currently on Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Eritrea, and Laos, and to “consider lifting” every other sanction after conducting a “full review” of them.

A Congressional Research Service report from January 2020 identified Cambodia, Eritrea, and Laos as “recalcitrant” or “uncooperative” countries imposed with 243(d) sanctions. This means that they “systematically refuse or delay the repatriation of their citizens,” in violation of their “international obligation to accept the timely return of their citizens.” Burma, on the other hand, was listed as “at risk” of being recalcitrant.

The CRS report also mentions a 2017 press release from the DHS that said certain countries were hit with 243(d) sanctions because they “failed to establish reliable processes for issuing travel documents to their nationals ordered removed.” And since the law prohibits the DHS from indefinitely keeping these foreign nationals detained, the agency added that it was forced to release around 3,000 sub-Saharan Africans into the U.S., some of whom had “serious criminal convictions.”