5 years later, families separated by Trump’s Muslim ban ask Biden for help
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All Naser Almuganahi wanted was to live with his wife and three daughters under one roof.
The 32-year-old bodega owner and US citizen from New York has been in immigration limbo since 2010, when he first applied for a visa for his wife in Yemen.
It took nearly six years just to get his wife, Om Alkheir Alazzar, an interview at a US consulate. The November 2016 interview went smoothly and Almuganahi was informed that his wife would have a visa in no time and could join him in Queens.
But then the days turned into months. Donald Trump was elected and quickly imposed a travel ban on the United States from several Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen. Months of waiting turned into years, and in May 2018, the couple finally received an update that their visa had been denied.
Even five years later, families like Almuganahi’s are still grappling with the consequences of this policy. While President Joe Biden reversed the final version of the ban on his first day in office last year, many families have yet to be reunited, including Almuganahi’s.
Last week, more than 100 organizations sent a letter to the Biden administration urging it to do more to ease ongoing family separations, delays and a backlog that likely deterred many people from even applying for U.S. visas.
“[I]It is crucial that this administration fulfills its promise to right the wrongs of the Trump administration by offering relief to those who applied but never received or were denied visas they would have been entitled to without these bans.” , the groups wrote in an effort led by the No Muslim Ban Ever campaign and the American Iranian National Council.
The letter also detailed 13 policy changes the groups would like to see the Biden administration make to rectify the impact of the ban, including expediting all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applications for people subject to the ban. prohibition and ending extreme screening policies for people from these countries. affected nations.
They also asked the administration to grant entry to people who won a visa through the diversity lottery program but were unable to use it due to the ban; the program grants up to 50,000 diversity visas per year to individuals from countries that have low immigrant numbers in the United States
“We need quick and tangible action to correct the harm inflicted on our communities by Trump’s Muslim and African ban,” Linda Sarsour, executive director of MPower Change, a Muslim advocacy group, said in a statement. communicated last week. “Now is the time to reunite families and restore due process for those affected and if the White House fails to do so, cancellation becomes nothing more than a broken promise.”
A State Department spokesperson told HuffPost in an emailed statement Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in “profound reductions” in the department’s visa processing capacity.
“The Department of State will continue to seek ways to creatively reduce wait times for visa interviews in collaboration with our interagency partners while ensuring a safe and efficient visa process,” the spokesperson added. .
“I feel like my body is here, but my spirit is with my family. My family’s life is in danger and there is nothing I can do.
– Naser Almuganahi
When Almuganahi began the arduous process of petitioning Alazzar to join him in Queens in 2010, she was pregnant with their daughter. He traveled back and forth between Yemen and the United States to be with them. She gave birth to another daughter in 2012, and soon after they were able to obtain US passports for their daughters. All that was missing was a visa for Alazzar.
They were still waiting for this when the US embassy in Yemen closed in 2015 due to the ongoing civil war. The couple had their case transferred to the US Embassy in Cairo. When they finally got an interview in 2016, Almuganahi arrived from New York, and his wife and children came from Yemen. The family thought the wait would finally be over.
“I was really happy. I was just amazed,” he said. “I remember going out with my wife and kissing her. We were very excited.”
Almuganahi waited in Cairo with his family for several months, checking the State Department website each morning for an update on the situation. But with no deadline in sight, he had to return to the United States to work. He hoped his wife would get a visa as soon as possible.
But by then, Trump’s presidency was in full swing. Opponents had challenged the ban in court and Almuganahi remained hopeful that their case would not be affected as it predated the ban.
When the official rejection, citing the ban, came in 2018, he lost that hope.
“I didn’t feel like an American citizen,” Almuganahi said. “I looked at my passport and my daughters’ passports, and I remember giving them to [the officer] and saying, ‘If you don’t treat me the same and give me my rights, then why do I need these passports?’ »
Almuganahi’s eldest daughter, who briefly lived with him, struggled at school and begged her mother to return to Yemen, where she eventually returned. Almuganahi contacted his representatives in Congress and the Senate for help, without success.
HuffPost documented 800 cases like that of Almuganahi in which the ban separated partners from spouses and parents from children. The analysis is the first of its kind and provides in-depth insight into the physical, mental and economic toll of the bans, which also included medical hardship and deaths. For many of these families, the ban has caused irreparable damage.
As one of his first acts as president, Biden signed the executive order ending the Trump administration’s travel ban. The US State Department later announced that people who had been denied visas due to the ban could request a revised decision or reapply.
Last week, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, tweeted that the agency was taking additional steps “to remedy the harm caused by these discriminatory prohibitions by waiving payment of immigrant visa fees for persons previously refused under these policies.”
Almuganahi’s hope was briefly restored, but his claim entered a backlog of nearly half a million cases. Almuganahi said he didn’t feel his family was any closer to a solution. He considered leaving the United States for another country where he and his family can live together. He doesn’t know how much longer he can tolerate being apart, especially as the war in Yemen rages on.
“I feel like my body is here, but my spirit is with my family,” he said. “My family’s life is in danger and I can’t do anything. What else do I have to do? I no longer have a solution. »
“It’s one thing to issue a proclamation revoking the Muslim ban, but we need to right the wrongs,” said Ahmed Mohamed, legal director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which now assists Almuganahi. with his case. “To do that, we need to bring those families together, and to make sure we can do that, we need to create a process that’s fair, timely, and allows those families to live together here in the United States so they can achieve the dream. American family.
Almuganahi and his family deserve this opportunity, Mohamed said: “They went through hell under the Trump administration and they continue to be treated exactly the same as they go through the reconsideration process created by the Biden administration. .”
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