Jeh Johnson, former Pentagon general counsel and U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee as secretary of Homeland Security, listens as Obama, not pictured, speaks during a nomination announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. Johnson, one of the president's earliest supporters, was a fundraiser and senior foreign policy adviser on Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. imposes visa restrictions on Gambia Government officials

The United States on Saturday restricted Gambian government officials and their families from entering their country after the West African nation’s government refused to accept nearly 2,000 deportees from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson signed the letter saying the U.S. Embassy in Banjul has discontinued visa issuance to employees of the Gambian government, employees of certain entities associated with the government, and their spouses and children, with limited exceptions. Businesses associated with the government and its officials with their families are also included in the ban.

The U.S. last applied the measures to the Caribbean nation of Guyana and warns if The Gambia’s government fails to cooperate, all Gambians will be denied entry.

The Gambia has some of the highest number of deportees in the backlog.

Many Gambians up for deportation have been released from custody, according to immigration officials.

Gambia’s embassy in Washington has not been issuing emergency passports needed for deportation. Many say the West African nation’s president Yahya Jammeh is angered by the denial of U.S. citizenship to his two children who were born in the Washington, D.C. area.

U.S. law does not allow children whose parents traveled on diplomatic passports to the country and gave birth to have citizenship.

Officials at The Gambia’s embassy say the U.S. should pay for its immigration officials to come assess them.

Gambia has one of the highest visa refusal rates in Africa. About 3,452 people applied for entry into the United States and visas were granted to less than 1,000 people.

Relations between The Gambia and the United States were strained over the country’s rights issues, meaning there could be more to the visa restrictions than just immigration matters. Human rights activists and groups have been working on having visa bans imposed on Gambia government officials over the years.

(Reporting from Washington, D.C.; Writing by Sam Phatey; Contribution by Alhagie Jobe; Editing by Sainey MK Marenah)

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