(GIN)—The Gambia may not be the first country to refuse to take back its citizens on a list of “deportables” but it might be the first one to be punished for it.
This month, the State Department “pulled the trigger” against the Gambian government for their refusal to accept some 2,000 Gambians the U.S. would like to deport. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson took the unexpected move against The Gambia after the issue became a political football between candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“As of Oct. 1, 2016, 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,” a State Department official said.
The law appears to call for an even broader response—the denial of visas to all Gambian citizens. But stripping government officials and their families of visas is still a powerful lever. The only time it’s been used before was against Guyana in 2001.
As of May 2, 2016, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency documented 23 countries that are considered “recalcitrant” in taking back their citizens. The list includes Algeria, China, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Zimbabwe. It also includes important allies like India and Afghanistan, as well as several African countries with close ties to the United States, among them Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Countries often refuse to take individuals identified for deportation because of a lack of proper identification, problems in confirming citizenship, or poor record-keeping.
According to The Gambian embassy in Washington, D.C., one sticking point for them is the refusal by the United States to pay for Gambian immigration officials to come to the United States to review the cases.
Meanwhile, other countries who face the same dilemma as the U.S. include Germany where 200,000 asylum seekers whose applications were rejected remain in the country.