How the ‘African Ban’ Ripped a Family Apart

Posted by on October 27, 2020 5:00 am
Categories: Everything Else

Matt Williams

When Donald Trump took the oath of office on a gray January morning in 2017, he laid out his vision for the United States under his leadership. “We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease,” he said. “A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.” The gulf between how liberals and conservatives imagined this vision would play out was wide. Nearly four years later, the divide in how we view the consequences of his first term remains large. But the nation is undeniably changed: Children have been separated from their parents at the border. Major American cities, roiled by protests, have been labeled “anarchist jurisdictions” by the Department of Justice. The stock market reached record highs just months after unemployment grew to levels not seen since the Great Depression. A global pandemic is hitting the U.S.—home to 4 percent of the world’s population but about 20 percent of its coronavirus deaths—particularly hard. Whether he’s reelected or not, President Trump will leave behind a legacy, one that includes normalizing corruption and misinformation, directing government offices and resources to serve his reelection campaign and settle personal scores, gutting nonpartisan federal agencies of expertise, and undermining some of the most basic principles of American democracy. And the decisions of this president and his administration have transformed countless lives. We are telling the stories of seven individuals—a mother of five young kids navigating virtual schooling, a young judge given a lifetime appointment, and a survivor of white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville, among others—living with the consequences of Trump’s first term. You can read the rest of the stories here.

In February 2017, Tayo left Nigeria for the United States. (I am calling Tayo by her nickname because she feared that using her full name could threaten her green-card petition.) Two years earlier, a cousin who lived in New York had introduced her over the phone to a man he worked with; the two began a friendship that soon turned into a long-distance romance. The man, a Black American, told Tayo about his desire to visit Nigeria someday. He was a saving grace during a turbulent period of her life—her marriage was ending, and she was working long hours to open a school. He encouraged her work, and in the process, became an important source of emotional support. Tayo had only planned to come to New York City for a visit—to see family and to get a sense of the country’s education system. But when Tayo met the man in person, they fell in love and decided to get married. They wed in September, seven months after she had arrived in the country.

Her new husband filed for her permanent residency. Three years later, she is still in limbo, as her petition awaits review by U.S. immigration services. Tayo has three children, aged 20, 11, and 10. Initially, she and her husband planned to save up money and bring them all to the United States, once she had sorted out custody with her ex-husband and secured her own permanent residency.

Then, on January 31, 2020, the Trump administration announced a ban on immigration from six new countries, including Nigeria, citing security concerns and a lack of information sharing with U.S. authorities to help combat terrorism. Coming three years after the first executive order restricting immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations, the second ban didn’t inspire the same level of protests at airports across the United States. But it upended Tayo’s plans and countless others’. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, and it has the largest diaspora population in the United States of any African country. Before the ban, the United States issued a number of green cards to Nigerians, and thousands of Nigerian students traveled to the U.S. each year to pursue higher education. Advocates noted that Nigerians were among the most highly educated immigrant groups in the United States—and that Trump said in a 2017 meeting that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts,” according to The New York Times—leading many to refer to the new measure as the “African ban.”

“I felt so bad,” Tayo said. “I knew it was going to affect me.”

[From the September 2020 issue: Is this the beginning of the end of American racism?]

Born in Ilorin, in the Kwara state in western Nigeria, Tayo grew up the daughter of a civil-servant father and a homemaker mother who had a small trading business, as is typical of many women in the country who don’t work in professional occupations. Tayo left her hometown to attend Ekiti State University at Ado-Ekiti in Nigeria’s southwest region, where she studied computer science.

In 2008, Tayo married her first husband, and together they had two children. (Her eldest child was from a teenage pregnancy.) In 2015, after her husband got another woman pregnant and asked for a polygamous marriage—which is legal in much of Nigeria—she filed for divorce. Initially, she shared custody with her ex-husband. Because of the custody arrangement, she wasn’t allowed to bring her children with her to the United States. When she and her new husband married, she decided to wait in the U.S. while her permanent residency processed—a common practice for immigrants. During that time, her ex-husband petitioned for, and was awarded, full custody of her two younger children. But Tayo said the kids complained about living with their father, which spurred her to consult an attorney from an ocean away. They now live with her parents.

Still, Tayo has not seen them in three years and seven months. Under the Trump administration’s immigration ban, she doesn’t know when she’ll see them again. If she leaves the country before her residency is processed, she fears, she may not easily be allowed to return.

[Adam Serwer: The sinister logic of Trump’s immigration freeze]

Because Tayo applied years before the ban, she is still eligible for a green card. She was scheduled for an interview with immigration officials in March, but a week prior, New York State shut down due to the coronavirus. She hasn’t received a rescheduled interview date yet, and with the new ban looming over her plans, everything is uncertain for her and for her children.

Still, she remains hopeful that she’ll see her kids again. “I know very soon, by God’s grace, they will be here,” she said. “It’s not easy not having your children with you as a mother. I wouldn’t have left them in the first place.”

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