Dr. Iyabo Okuwobi, a Nigerian-American doctor in Decatur, talks with Niang Lun as she holds her 16-month-old son, Hau Tuang Lun, following an exam Feb. 24, 2020. The Lun family is from Myanmar, one of the countries affected by the Trump administration’s new travel restrictions. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: BEN@BENGRAY.COM
Photo: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

Trump’s new travel ban rattles Nigerian-Americans in Georgia

Nigerians hope to get their country removed from President Donald Trump’s most recent travel ban, a set of wide-ranging visa restrictions that have divided Georgia and rattled many Nigerian-Americans living here.

Immigrants worry the restrictions will split families and deter Nigerian doctors and entrepreneurs from coming to the U.S. Meanwhile, conservative Georgians are defending Trump’s decision to include Nigeria. The president added the West African nation on Jan. 31, saying it does not adequately share public safety and terrorism-related information.

“It is going to be a big loss for America if they restrict Nigerians, because we are contributing so much to the American economy,” said Dr. Iyabo Okuwobi, a published author and blogger from Nigeria whose medical practice in Decatur employs eight people and sees 200 patients a week on average.

By far the largest of the 13 nations covered by the government’s travel restrictions, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with 208 million people. More than 23,000 people born in Nigeria now call Georgia home.

Okuwobi and others are pushing back against the narrative about their homeland coming out of the White House. Three years ago, Trump reportedly complained Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” if they were granted visas to visit the United States. The following year, the president demanded to know why the U.S. should accept immigrants from “shithole countries,” including Haiti and African nations, rather than places like Norway.

Oil-rich Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy, according to the CIA. More than half of its people live in urban areas. And as of 2016, 59% of black Nigerian immigrants in the U.S. had a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly double that of the American population.

Modupe Marianne Ladapo created Lenox Cupcakes after immigrating from Nigeria and obtaining her Master of Business Administration degree from Georgia State University. Using her late mother’s cake recipe, Ladapo has grown her business from her home in Buckhead to storefront locations in Chamblee and Decatur with four employees. Her clients, she said, include Coca-Cola, Bank of America and Google. On the list of her most popular items are her Red Velvet cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies.

“We love this country. I could not think of anywhere else that I would want to live but here,” said Ladapo, a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Nigerian-Americans are also ministering to Georgians. On a recent Sunday, the Rev. Joseph Takon stood outside the City of David, a parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Peachtree Corners. A naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria, Takon wants to reopen a free community health clinic he established — he is also a doctor — and start an information technology training program in the church’s 60,000-square-foot building.

City of David’s roughly 600 parishioners include people from African and Caribbean nations. Their band features a talking drum — an hourglass-shaped instrument from West Africa. And the song lyrics projected above their stage include subtitles in Yoruba, a language spoken in Nigeria.

Takon said many of his fellow countrymen seeking to come here are Christians who have been persecuted by Islamic extremists. For years, their West African homeland has battled Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group that has carried out kidnappings, suicide bombings and other violent attacks.

“What option are you giving them? You are asking them to go back there and suffer the inevitable consequences of being denied even the comfort or the use of their own homes,” said Takon. He added Nigerian visitors become acculturated in America and can return to their homeland and “temper the rising hostility against American-Western culture.”

Nigerian Interior Minister Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola met late last month with U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Mary Beth Leonard about the temporary ban on immigrant visas for Nigerians. His office posted pictures of their meeting on Twitter and indicated Nigeria is making progress in addressing the Trump administration’s concerns.

“Nigeria is too important an ally of America to deserve such a sanction,” Aregbesola said in a statement prior to the meeting, Reuters reported.

Americans were nearly evenly divided in January when asked about the expanded travel ban, according to a Politico/Morning Consult online poll of 1,992 registered voters nationwide. Thirty-nine percent supported an expansion, while 41% opposed it, a difference of opinion within the survey’s margin of error.

In Georgia, some conservatives back Trump’s travel restrictions.

“The reasons they are doing it are for security purposes. We have been letting people in the country who are sometimes bad actors,” said Jim Jess, a north Cobb County resident and the chairman of the Franklin Roundtable, formerly called The Georgia Tea Party.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing legislation to repeal the travel restrictions. The House Judiciary Committee passed the measure on a party-line vote last month, but the “No Ban Act” has a slim chance of winning approval in the GOP-led Senate.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Lithonia Democrat who sits on the Judiciary Committee and who supports the legislation, recently called Trump’s travel restrictions “another racist policy to hurt brown and black people, stoking fear and division.”

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a Gainesville Republican who sits on the same committee with Johnson, opposes the measure. He said the Trump administration was well within its rights to clamp down on travel from Nigeria and the other countries.

“By suspending the overseas issuance of immigrant visas for a number of countries until they comply with U.S. security standard, President Trump is continuing to take decisive action to ensure the safety and security of our country,” he said.

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