The United States Embassy in Abuja on Wednesday provided a possible reason for the deportation of a Nigerian believed to be a victim of the ongoing immigration overhaul by the Donald Trump administration.
Mr. Trump recently intensified a crackdown on immigrants from specific countries across the world, majority of them Muslim-majority countries.
But despite the U.S. State Department’s position that the new rules will not affect Nigeria, there have been reported cases of deportation involving Nigerians in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, a Nigerian man who was turned back at the entry point in Los Angeles, California, in February, called the attention of PREMIUM TIMES to his situation.
Femi Olaniyi said he was deported after being detained for several days, despite having a visa valid for two years.
“I travelled to the United States of America on 21 of February 2017, with two years’ valid multiple visa.
“When I got to the point of entry of Los Angeles, the immigration officer directed me to one BPD, he interrogated me and I answered him politely.
“When he has nothing to hold me, he said I should come for biometric whether I have any criminal offence.
“I told him that I’m not a criminal that he should go ahead. Later, he brought some documents that I should sign, I told him that I will need to read before I sign.
“He quickly withdrew the document and put me in a cold cell. From there he held me for four days. Collected all my phone so that I will not get access to my family and later revoked and return me back to Nigeria.
“Honestly, this is unfair, Nigeria needs to do something,” Mr. Olaniyi said.
Mr. Olaniyi told PREMIUM TIMES he had travelled to different countries across the world in the past, but the botched journey was his first to the United States.
The U.S. Embassy did not deny Mr. Olaniyi’s allegations, but maintained there are no restrictions on Nigerians with valid documents.
“There is no restriction on Nigerians travelling to the United States,” Embassy spokesman, Russell Brooks, told PREMIUM TIMES by email Wednesday afternoon. “Nigerians with valid visas are welcome to travel to the United States.”
Mr. Russell blamed Mr. Olaniyi’s incident on a long-standing immigration policy that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States, a practice he said remained popular amongst different countries across the world.
“However, many people are unaware of the fact that a visa does not automatically guarantee you entry into the United States,” Mr. Brooks said. “As is the case in most countries, all travellers are still subject to an interview by an immigration official at the point of entry.”
The official said U.S.-bound travellers must convince immigration officials that they had reasons to enter the country, adding that such officers should be given maximum cooperation.
“At U.S. airports, the immigration inspector representing the Department of Homeland Security is the official who actually authorises entry.
“The inspector must be convinced that the purpose of the travel is legitimate and he or she will have access to information concerning prior travel.
“We certainly encourage all travellers to be clear, consistent, and cooperative during such an interview.”
Mr. Olaniyi’s ordeal came amidst growing concerns about deliberate denial of Nigerians an entry into the United States.
On Monday, an aide to President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigerians appear to be targeted by the United States due to the controversial new immigration rules imposed by President Donald Trump.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa said her office had been inundated with complaints that Nigerians with valid travel documents to the United States were being turned back, warning citizens not to travel to that country unless they have to.
“In the last few weeks, the office has received a few cases of Nigerians with valid multiple-entry US visas being denied entry and sent back to Nigeria,” Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa said. “In such cases reported to the office, such affected persons were sent back immediately on the next available flight and their visas were cancelled.”
But the advisory was swiftly debunked by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who urged Nigerians to disregard it in its entirety.
“I can tell you to ignore any call or advice to reconsider travelling to the U.S. because there is no basis for that,” Mr. Onyeama told reporters in Abuja Tuesday. “We have absolutely no report whatsoever from the U.S. that people are being turned back from the U.S. or any of our consulate or any Nigerian that any of our people are being turned back.”
A Nigerian lawmaker, Nnenna Ukeje, also slammed Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa for creating unnecessary confusion among Nigerians.
Ms. Ukeje, who participated in a focused group program to mark World Womens’ Day on Channels Television, said Ms. Dabiri-Erewa had no business making a pronouncement on such weighty diplomatic matters.
Similarly, Mr. Brooks implored Nigerians to discard reports that Nigerians were affected by the U.S. immigration restrictions.
“To date, despite certain media reports, there is no information that confirms that a large number of Nigerians are being turned away at U.S. airports and returned home.
“Nigerian citizens are welcome to travel to the United Sates,” Mr. Brooks said.