Melissa Etehad and Sarah Parvini report on the continued hardship and separation that the Trump administration’s travel ban has caused U.S. citizens and their families:
Discussions of the travel ban tend to focus on the foreign nationals who have been denied entry to the United States. But Darchini and thousands of other U.S. citizens have also had their lives upended.
The woe of being separated from their loved ones has been amplified by the mystery surrounding the process for obtaining an exemption from the ban, leaving many in a Kafkaesque state of limbo over whether their families will ever be admitted to the United States.
The current iteration of the ban includes Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Venezuela — countries that the U.S. government says fail to share information that would help it determine whether certain travelers could be involved in terrorism.
The national security justification for the ban has been bogus from the start. The ban is a wholly unnecessary burden imposed on both American citizens and their relatives and loved ones in the affected countries. In many cases, the ban is preventing people from being able to live with their spouses and start families. In others, it is separating American citizens from the children they already have, or it is preventing them from bringing their parents here from countries devastated by war. No public or security interest is served by preventing a man from marrying his Iranian fiancee or keeping a married couple apart for years on end. The emotional and financial burden that these people are forced to bear for no good reason is absolutely unacceptable, and it is alarming how easily an arbitrary presidential decree can wreck the lives of tens of thousands of people.
The administration’s defense of the ban before the Supreme Court relied heavily on the existence of a waiver program, but the waiver program has proven to be little more than window dressing for an outrageous and unjustified blanket ban on entire nationalities. The process is opaque and confusing for the people stuck using it:
The only way in for people from those countries are waivers, which are granted to applicants who demonstrate that it is in the “national interest” of the U.S. and that without entry they or their families would suffer “undue hardship,” according to President Trump’s executive order creating the ban.
But the government does not say how it defines “national interest” or “undue hardship” or provide much information on how it decides who qualifies for a waiver.
In a pair of pending lawsuits filed last year against the administration, U.S. citizens and their foreign national relatives allege that the process is highly irregular and subjective.
The say their applications for waivers have been denied en masse for reasons that have never been explained to them. Others were told their visas had been approved only to be denied later or strung along indefinitely.
Assuming that you can navigate your way through this process, it probably still won’t do you any good. The government grants these waivers at an absurdly low rate. Only one in twenty applicants has received a waiver since the third version of the travel ban went into effect:
Only recently — in response to a request from a congressman — has the State Department released statistics on the granting of visas to people from the countries subject to the ban.
The vast majority — three-quarters of the 48,656 who applied in the 11 months after the Supreme Court upheld the ban in December 2017 — were rejected. Fewer than 5% had been approved for waivers, and more than a third of those were still waiting for their visas.
The remaining fifth of applicants is left waiting for an answer, and it is more than likely that the answer they receive will be no. There are still legal challenges to the ban because of the severe flaws in the waiver program:
The lawsuit alleges that the process of applying for waivers is a “sham” and violates the rights of applicants. People are being denied waivers at consulates in the affected countries without ever being told what information they need to submit in order to be considered, Shebaya said.
The result is that many people from the affected countries that would have normally been granted visas, and in some cases had previously been granted visas, are barred from coming even though they pose absolutely no threat to anyone. When you consider the individual cases reported in this article or in any of the other stories about the ban, it is ridiculous that the U.S. government considers these people to be security threats. There is no excuse for what is being done to these people. The policy is one driven solely by irrational fear and prejudice, and it should be rescinded as soon as possible. The next president should make reversing this ban a priority, and I hope that all of the Democratic presidential candidates pledge to do just that.