Maybe President Donald Trump never knew he had friends such as former Sudanese refugee Philip Tutu, a Kansas City, Missouri, computer-systems engineer who not only voted for Trump in 2016, but worked hard for his election.
So how did that turn out? First, the Trump administration rewarded Sudan’s genocidal Islamist dictator, Omar al-Bashir, who Tutu and many others in his community had been sure President Trump would crack down on, along with “all of the bad guys.”
And now that the Sudanese people finally have managed to rid themselves of Bashir after 30 deadly years, the Trump administration has put Sudan on the expanded list of countries from which travel is banned or restricted, effective Feb. 22.
All of the six additions to the list happen to have large Muslim populations, and this happens to be an election year. Even an English major can do that math.
Somehow, national security wasn’t enough of an issue to get the Sudanese banned from our borders three years ago, when Bashir still was killing his own people in the Darfur and in South Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains, where Tutu is from.
Ohhh, because back then, Bashir, who harbored Osama bin Laden in the ’90s, was sending more and more Sudanese soldiers to fight in Yemen, on the side of the U.S-backed, Saudi and United Arab Emirates-led coalition, which naturally prefers to outsource the dying.
Yet now that Sudan finally has a civilian, nonterrorist nondictator as its transitional prime minister, it’s the perfect moment to keep Sudanese out?
The new travel restrictions almost completely will block immigration from Nigeria and Myanmar, where Muslims are fleeing genocide. Those from Sudan and Tanzania will be barred from moving here through the diversity visa lottery. In Sudan’s case, the official explanation is that the country is still on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Sure it is, but that’s been the case since 1993, and State Department officials recently said they’re considering taking Sudan off the list. We’re restoring diplomatic relations, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo already has met with Sudan’s new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, in Washington.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Tutu. “I don’t know how politics works, but they’re acting against people.” People who believed in Donald Trump.
When I visited the remote Nuba Mountains the month after Trump was inaugurated, Nubans kept asking me to tell our new president that they had celebrated his election and were counting on him.
There is no electricity, phone service or indoor plumbing in the region, and not a single paved road. International aid hadn’t been allowed in for years, and journalists weren’t supposed to go, either. No one was. It was only last month, on Jan. 24, that the new government announced that humanitarian aid routes blocked since 2011 would be reopened. Nuba is about to rejoin the world.
Bashir, who was deposed in April of last year, always called the more liberal, darker-skinned Muslims who live there “black insects.” Government troops bombed their hospitals and schools, poisoned their water and burned their crops and villages.
Trump finally would bring peace, Nubans told me, because he’s from the same party as George W. Bush, whose administration did so much good in Africa and cared about the plight of the Sudanese in Nuba in particular. Bashir “doesn’t want to meet Donald Trump; he’s afraid,” one smiling rebel soldier said. “I don’t want Islamic radicals, and neither does he.”
Though Nubans are mostly Muslim, too, “we get along with Christians, raise pigs and drink beer,” a local health official told me, “so it’s OK to kill us.”
They were confident that Trump was not going to lift even temporarily some sanctions against Sudan’s government, as Barack Obama had done, in return for Bashir’s cooperation on some of his fellow terrorists.
(Spoiler alert: In the end, Trump went even further, and lifted all remaining sanctions permanently.)
Now “so disappointed,” Tutu, who came to Kansas City from Nuba 20 years ago, reluctantly has started to see Trump’s actions as racist.
He didn’t hurry to that conclusion. Since Trump took office, we’ve cut back so dramatically on the number of refugees we’re accepting into the country that the groups who’ve traditionally done that resettlement work are having a hard time keeping the lights on. Yes, even though the global refugee crisis is more serious than at any time since World War II.
We’re making asylum all but impossible, too.
The president’s view of “s---hole countries,” of Haitian immigrants who “all have AIDS,” and of Nigerians who if allowed in on visas would never “go back to their huts” has been translated perfectly into policy.
It’s fair to describe Trump’s foreign and trade policy as incoherent, but not his approach on immigration. It reliably favors the strong over the weak, the monied over the poor and the white over the nonwhite. So those who need our help most don’t get it.
One of his administration’s latest immigration innovations is to look askance at pregnant tourists, so maybe we’ll wind up conducting urine tests at all points of entry. (Congratulations! You’re banned!)
“We voted for him,” Tutu keeps repeating sadly. But the president may be right to believe that many more of his voters will think of these new restrictions fondly come November.
Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of the Kansas City Star’s editorial board.