Tag Archives: trump

Africa is not an expletive and poverty isn’t confusing

It has been weeks since Trump called Haiti, El Salvador, and African states “s*hole countries” in a White House meeting on immigration. Many have been waiting for the denial, the justification, the spin, or an apology. We certainly got the first and then some degree of the second and the third. On Friday when Trump met with the President of Rwanda and the new head of the African Union in a friendly meeting in Switzerland, one where he ignored the shouted questions about “s*hole countries”. The President’s lack of comprehension of world economies is troubling on many levels, but for me, largely on an intellectual one. You see, although fixing poverty is extremely difficult, understanding it is not.

Poverty is really quite simple: Being poor means you spend your life choosing the least awful of two or more awful choices in an environment that constrains your options at every turn. The countries that Trump referenced in his comments are so unmeritocratic that they disincentivize working hard, following the rules, and being innovative in business.

Why invest your hard-earned money in order to buy a house when the government could seize your property on oil-rich land, or refuse to compensate you for environmental damage? E.g. Nigeria. Why would an individual citizen pay their income taxes when even the state oil company doesn’t? E.g. Angola. When you live at the poverty line, why risk starting a new business when it might fail and cost you everything, and your innovation is likely to be appropriated by others? E.g. Sierra Leone. Poverty deeply entrenches the status quo because it makes us risk-averse when our choices are limited to begin with.

Amartya Sen argues that economic development isn’t just about average salaries. It consists of interconnected freedoms: a) political freedom and transparency in relationships, b) free of opportunity to access credit, start businesses, engage in trade, etc., and c) freedom from abject poverty that can be eased with state income and unemployment assistance.

He says that all three must be present for people to rise out of poverty. If any are missing, people suffer from exclusion, coercion, and predation that impedes their ability to increase their incomes. That describes Haiti and most African countries.

Trump’s lack of understanding of poverty is not just alarming internationally but domestically too—America has a stubbornly high poverty rate. Just under 15% of the U.S. population, 45 million people, live below the American poverty line. These urban and rural poor are Trump’s constituents, and confusingly, his supporters. His obligation to understand the realities of being poor apply to his own country as well.

The U.S. Travel Ban on Muslims, Nigeria, and Why It’s Such a Bad Idea

Although Nigeria has little potential (at this point) to make the U.S. travel ban, Trump’s Executive Order signed last week is bad news for everyone. There is great potential that it will last beyond the initial 90 days. I don’t believe Nigeria would ever be considered for the ban, despite the coverage of the 2012 “Underwear Bomber” and Boko Haram’s activities. The oil-based trade relationship between the countries is too important (5% of all U.S. oil comes from Nigeria). Trade in oil is also the reason that Saudi Arabia is not on the travel ban list, despite the large role of Saudi attackers in 9/11. Additionally, the travel ban gives preference to visas for Christians, which comprise a large number of Nigerian applications.

However, about a quarter million Americans claim Nigerian ancestry. Some of those may well be trying to bring family members to the U.S. There are tiers of prioritization of family-based visas, from Family First (minor children of citizens) to Family Fourth (brothers and sisters of citizens). I found a report from last year showing that Africans make up just under 4% of all family visa requests, far eclipsed by those from Central America. Here is the list by region:

list.PNG

To visually show you African applications compared to other regions:

chart

Although this may seem like a low number of application, Yomi Kazeem points out that Nigeria “may be caught in diplomatic cross-hairs of Trump’s ‘America First’ visa policies. In 2015, Nigeria accounted for 32% of the nearly half a million non-immigrant American visas issued to nationals of African countries and received more visas than the four other countries that make up the top five in Africa when combined.”

He also argues that with the understanding of reciprocity, Nigeria and any other country has the capacity to treat American visa applicants in the same manner that the U.S. treats their foreign citizens. Securing my Nigerian visas was an incredibly difficult feat several years ago, and I can’t imagine what it will be like if there are any more demands on applicants.

Why the Travel Ban Makes No Sense At All:

Although The Executive Order currently only includes three African countries—Somalia, Sudan, and Libya—it is disastrous on so many levels across the globe.  It endangers U.S. citizens by fostering animosity among those who are already anti-American, and alienating potential Muslim allies. (Why would pro-democracy Afghanis or Iraqis support our cause on the ground now?) It stokes the irrational fears of Americans who fail to recognize that less than 70 Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by terrorism (attackers included) since 9/11. Most clearly, it denies refugee status to those who would otherwise become important actors in the U.S. economy, and instead created furthers the burden on our ally countries in already-taxed Europe. Or worse, it forces immigrants and refugees back to the very countries that are an environment that is ripe for radicalization.  It is much safer for Americans to have teenage boys from Syria trying to build a life in the U.S. than leaving them to the Aleppo streets, where their options for radicalization are infinitely greater.

Did I yet mention how the travel ban creates a “brain drain” for us as we lose thousands of talented PhDs, scientists, engineers, and technology experts from the Middle East?  The U.S. is now turning away people who could find the cure for cancer, create more energy efficient buildings, and revolutionize the way we understand the world. Even if the ban is lifted after 90 days, many may not want to return to a hostile environment.

Ethical and legal implications aside, the travel ban is inherently…irrational, in both the everyday and the economic sense.Then again, no one ever claimed that a politics of fear makes sense.

African Immigration’s Future in the Age of Trump

The number of African immigrants arriving to the United States has roughly doubled each decade since the 1970s. There are almost 2 million African immigrants currently living in the U.S., accounting for about 4.5% of the immigrant population. Although this is not a large number, they have the fastest growth rate of any immigrant group.  Almost half of all Africans are Muslim, which means a notable portion of the African immigrants arriving to the U.S. each year are too. This is significant considering Trump’s stance on Muslims in the United States.

Under a Trump administration, there would certainly be a reduction in the number of refugee and asylum statuses granted, including to Muslims seeking protection from fundamentalism in their home countries. The U.S. admitted a record number of Muslim refugees in 2016, almost 40,000. Most of them were from the Middle East, however, and I have not been able to find numbers on African Muslim refugees. Trump argues that allowing Muslims into the U.S. puts the country at risk for terrorist attacks, although there is no evidence that this is true.  Anecdotally, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have been perpetrated by those on student visas or those with long-time ties, including citizenship.

Cutting off a safety route to Muslims who are seeking to separate themselves from the homelands that have oppressed them is exactly the opposite of what a security-minded Trump should be doing to minimize terrorism.  By allowing Muslims to enter the U.S., we strengthen ties to global Islamic communities, improve our image, and separate disaffected Muslims from the places that foster malcontent towards Americans. African countries from which the U.S. would be wise to accept more immigrants include those with growing extremist tendencies, e.g. Sudan, Nigeria, and Mali. Barring such individuals’ entry into the U.S. system keeps them in fundamentalist locations, where they can then live with a much more jaded view of the West.

These are all hypothetical concerns because, although Trump will be arguably the most powerful head of state in the world, bureaucracies are still bureaucracies. He will (hopefully) still have to make such inhospitable immigration changes within the confines of a government slow to change.  He will be bolstered by a Republican Congress, but it is yet to be determined how much GOP support he will enjoy. Since he is divisive among his own party at this point, he may very well get in his own way when it comes to realizing his goals of isolating Muslims from the American mainstream. Let’s hope that is actually the case, that he, and his ill-chosen words, is his own greatest obstacle. If not, if he does what he claims he wants to do, American-Muslim relations can only become more precarious.