Rita with her mother on visiting Benin City in 2017. Image: Rita Omokha via USA Today
President Donald Trump recently expanded his administration's travel ban to alienate and punish six additional countries because he could. One of those countries is Nigeria, my home country, whose people have demonstrably produced productive outcomes in America. But that shouldn’t matter. The fact that Nigerians are among the most successful ethnic groups in America is beside the point. Trump’s ban once again shows that his policies aren’t based on rational logic but on a deep-seated prejudice against nonwhite immigrants.
Following the Immigration Act of 1990, a bid for high-skilled and educated workers, the CGFNS International nonprofit went to countries like Nigeria and the Philippines looking for nurses. My mother migrated to New York as part of this effort by America, arriving in Harlem on Feb. 4, 1992. Since then, she has been a registered nurse at two government hospitals.
She also has put four children through school and been a two-time homeowner, a taxpayer and a devoted citizen. For over 20 years, she has volunteered at community outreach programs, been a women’s leader at her local church and loves being a nurse, “more than anything.” She is America's best.
She embodies the core values of America and contributes tirelessly to its development. She tells my brothers and me that the key to her American success is hard work. There are no shortcuts, she tells us. We are productive members of our communities because we saw her be a productive member of our community growing up. I served in AmeriCorps for this very reason. To meet the needs of those in my community. To live out America’s call to embody its core values.
The currency of Trump’s America
This ban fails history.
Trump’s apparatus from Day One of his presidential candidacy is separating nonwhite immigrants merely because he can. The rise in nonwhite immigrants in America has long caused an anti-immigrant awareness among Americans who fear unwelcome competition in jobs and wages. But it’s clear now that it’s more than fear of losing jobs or lower wages. This ban reinforces and is consistent with Trump’s xenophobia, bigotry and Islamophobia. Whiteness, and whiteness alone, is the currency in Trump’s America. This addition to the ban, released on Jan. 31, on the eve of Black History Month (no coincidence there), and effective last Friday, claims, “Nigeria does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information. ... Nigeria also presents a high risk, relative to other countries in the world, of terrorist travel to the United States.”
So, over the decades, this has not been an issue? What evidence is there that Nigerians have been a threat to America?
Following World War II, immigration propelled America’s economic and cultural development. From the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that encouraged family reunification, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants, the 2001 Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that carved a path to citizenship for those who were brought here illegally as children, to the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that protected "Dreamers" from deportation — such policies were intended to positively impact families like mine.
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Trump doesn’t hide his disregard for history or for nonwhite immigrants and the like. It wasn’t enough to christen countries that bore some of the brilliant minds in America, like my mother, s---hole, or to ask those brilliant minds to “go back to their huts,” the president now decides, on the cusp of a significant time in American history, to alienate whole countries, because, well, it was a Friday and he has the power to do so.
An intention to alienate immigrants
This ban is personal.
Because, yes, I am Nigerian. Never mind the statistics showing that 59% of Nigerian immigrants in America had a bachelor’s or advanced degree, according to a Pew Research Center report. Or that this percentage is almost double the overall American population. That most Nigerians get master's or terminal degrees in their respective fields and have a higher median household income. It’s personal because it’s blatantly un-American.
Black History Month:I searched a continent a world away, hoping to find 'home'
Trump shows time and time again that he doesn’t care for nonwhite immigrants and at times blames nonwhite immigrants for his shortcomings. There is the border wall and the government shutdown, the attempt to rescind DACA protections, his claim that he would have won the popular vote if not for votes cast by undocumented immigrants, and barring people from certain Muslim-majority nations from entering the country as one of his first orders as president while saying he’s the “least racist person there is anywhere in the world.”
This ban is an intention to alienate people, like my mother, seeking opportunities; it alienates the tired, the poor and huddled masses.
History will remember Donald Trump as the most divisive, hateful and un-American president of our time.
Rita Omokha is a Nigerian American graduate journalism student at Columbia University, where she is writing a book on the history of Nigerian immigration. Follow her on Twitter: @RitaOmokha