The move affects four countries: Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Guinea. Suspending visas is not an uncommon tactic: past US administrations have done this twice before in order to push deportations along.
The State Department is trying to determine how to implement the order after the Department of Homeland Security notified the agency last week that the countries were either delaying or declining to accept people who had been deported from the US, which Washington says violates the Immigration and Nationality Act.
It isn’t clear how many people may be impacted by the order.
A State Department official told Voice of America in an email, "We follow a standard process to implement a visa suspension as expeditiously as possible in the manner the secretary determines most appropriate under the circumstances to achieve the desired goal. That process includes internal discussions with, and official notification to, affected countries."
Guinea’s ambassador to the United States, Mamady Condé, said that there are about 2,000 Guineans living illegally in the United States and that 75 nationals have been deported, but he did not specify a time frame.
Two US charter flights have returned 30 to 40 Sierra Leone citizens since January according to Bockarie Kortu Stevens, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the US. He says his country has been cooperative with deportation orders.
Stevens told VOA, "Once they've been identified as bona fide Sierra Leoneans, we issue the relevant travel documents, and it’s up to the United States authorities to affect the deportations."
The US has deported 88 Guineans, 117 Eritreans and 27 Cambodians so far this year, according to the State Department, though this represents only a fraction of deportations ordered.
Illegal immigration was a major plank in the campaign of US President Donald Trump, who declared the need to remove immigrants who have a violent criminal history. During a campaign stop in June 2015, Trump infamously referred to Mexicans immigrants as criminals, drug addicts and rapists. After facing criticism for his comments, the former reality television star said, "I can never apologize for the truth."