ON Monday, April 22, 2019, an amended rule was published in the federal register of the government of United States relating to the issuance of visas. The federal register is a government-issued publication in which the final text of all administrative rule changes have to be published following the comment procedure that must take place prior to the finalisation of any rule.
Under US President Donald Trump’s administration, immigration rules (the United States Customs and Immigration Services is an administrative agency governed by statute and administrative regulations) have made up a large number of the rule changes that have been published so far. The reason is simple: changing administrative rules is often easier than passing legislation through both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.
Immigration, especially the restrictionist version of it that the white nationalists in the Trump administration wish to implement, is unlikely to pass as legislation, and so why not use the rule changes? Unlike legislation, rule changes tend to be far narrower, but a lot of narrow and specific changes can eventually produce the same result as sweeping laws that have been passed in the House and Senate.
Under the Trump administration, immigration rules have made up a large number of the rule changes.
The particular law that was published in the federal register on April 22, 2019, had to do with the issuance of visas by consular officials in foreign countries all over the world. The intention of the rule, as stated in the federal register, was to prevent the entry of large populations of foreign nationals from countries that were unwilling to take back those who are illegally present in the US and subject to deportation proceedings.
To make this possible, the rule was being expanded so that consular officials at US consulates around the world were empowered not only (as had previously been the case) to refuse or reject visas but to also cease the issuance of visas altogether. They could do so when the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security informed them that the country had refused to take back its citizens, residents or subjects that were subject to orders of removal (deportation) by the government of the United States.
The same week that this rule was passed, another appeared in a later edition of the federal register. According to this new rule, countries that had a high percentage of people who travelled to America and then overstayed their visas could be subject to sanctions including the cessation of the grant of all visas to any and all citizens of the country.
Based on the percentage of overstaying citizens, Chad, Somalia, South Sudan, Djibouti and several other African countries would face sanctions. It is notable that if the rule had been linked to the total number of people overstaying their visas, rather than the percentage of the total visa applicants, it would have been Canadian citizens and not citizens of small African countries who would be subject to sanctions.
On Friday, reports emerged that the Trump administration would cease the issuance of visas to Pakistani citizens based on the first rule. If true, this would mean that the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security had apparently informed consular officials in Pakistan that they should cease the issuance of visas because there were Pakistanis who had been slated for deportation from the United States and had not been accepted by Pakistan.
There was no mention of the fact of who these deportees were or that in some cases people can claim to be citizens of a country but do not provide any documentation of valid citizenship. Could it be that in the current mood of large-scale deportations and restricted borders, the United States is attempting to deport individuals who claim to be Pakistani citizens but do not have any documentation to prove the fact?
Whatever the truth of their situation may be, the change in the rule, occurring as it did just before the announcement of visa sanctions based on refused deportations, suggests that the matter is under serious consideration.
Terming media reports as misleading, the Foreign Office has said that the United States and Pakistan are continuing to discuss the matter. It is likely that the Pakistani authorities are making inquiries regarding the basis of the reported sanctions and whether accepting the citizens slated for deportations would allow them to be immediately lifted.
Be that as it may, the passage and implementation of these rules, along with the new guard (a new head of Department of Homeland Security and a new head of Immigration and Customs), all of whom have even more restrictionist views than their predecessors, suggests that travel to the United States is likely to become exceedingly difficult for Pakistanis in the months ahead. The passage of these rules and likely more of a similar ilk means that sanctions on visa issuance can be implemented very quickly with a single statement of the Department of Homeland Security — or even on the basis of determination by consular officials themselves.
Immigrants or even tourists who are brown and black are not welcome in Trump’s America. Initially held back by the rulings of judges who did not find legal bases for changes in immigration enforcement, the Trump administration is now racing full speed ahead to accomplish a central goal that the president and his allies have long promised their voter base: a white nationalist America uninterested in hosting citizens of poorer countries regardless of whether they have relatives or even children in the United States.
This rule change and the possibility of the cessation of visas to all Pakistani citizens is merely the first step towards what seems to be a bleak and dismal future for Pakistani travellers to the United States.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2019