The Gambia has ignored U.S. deportation orders for four years before the U.S. put a visa ban on its officials to force the West African authorities to accept its citizens under a removal order.
Consular officers at the Gambian embassy, empathetic with fellow citizens, whose families rely on remittances sent from overseas having denied the citizenship of Gambians or prolonged the processing of their travel documents forcing U.S. immigration authorities to release them from detention after 90 days.
But the visa ban has bent the hands of Gambian officials to start issuing travel documents for deportation of their citizens, who have committed crimes and exhausted all legal means to stay in the U.S., ending the self-styled four-year moratorium on accepting deportees.
The visa travel ban on Gambian officials does not affect the most senior officials of the government. It affects mostly junior civil servants and saw a mass denial of U.S. visa to ordinary citizens.
After the ban was imposed last year by the then U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, former President Yahya Jammeh’s family and his senior officials traveled to the U.S. regularly.
Gambia was number 11 on the list of countries to face the ban but it was handpicked as a weaker target because of worsening political relations between Jammeh’s government and the Obama administration.
Amid the frustration of the Gambia not taking back its citizens, The White House at the time also wanted to show Congress that it has been taking a stronger stand on immigration and deporting those that became “illegal residents.”
Gambia’s new government is seeking to have the travel ban removed. The country’s Foreign Service officials have been corporating with U.S. law enforcement and at least two dozen Gambians have been returned.
The embassy in Washington has to consult the Foreign Ministry in Banjul, which in turn engages the Ministry of Interior to verify citizenship and process travel documents. The cumbersome process could be time-consuming.
Gambian authorities say they have told Washington they would need to create the right environment for returnees and those that have that capacity right now.
Talks are ongoing to have the visa ban on officials lifted. Gambia’s acting Vice President, Fatoumata Tambajang, and Commerce and Trade Minister, Dr. Isatou Touray met with Congress and State Department officials in March.
U.S. has signaled that it may lift the sanctions but the State Department could face a difficult challenge achieving that with the Trump administration taking all measures to show voters that he has been keeping his campaign promise.