The Trump administration’s immigration ban on several majority-Muslim nations was “morally wrong,” in the words of US President Joe Biden.
Soon after taking office, Biden rescinded the so-called “Muslim ban”. This week, his administration announced that a majority of those who were denied entry to the US because of it could apply again for visas.
Amid the rejoicing, one group found it had been left out.
Thousands selected to receive “diversity visas”, intended to encourage migration from under-represented people, had been denied by Trump executive order. The president had then tried to eliminate the diversity programme altogether.
Anwar al Saeedi, a Yemeni who in 2017 expected to be moving to the US with his wife and two young children, told NPR, “It was a big dream for me to be able to move my children to America, to live in a respectable country which respects human rights and where it’s possible to live in safety.”
Instead, he is still living in the east African nation of Djibouti, where he took his family to attend interviews for his visa as the US embassy in Yemen closed years ago due to the war there. “Our country is stuck in wars and we’ve lost everything,” he said. “Making it to America is a big dream.”
Abed Ayoub, a director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which represents people like Anwar, said, “These people are worse off now, because the US government, regardless of whether it’s Biden or Trump, made a promise to them and whole families acted on that promise.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of several groups to challenge Trump’s travel ban, called Biden’s decision a disgrace.
“He just dusted off Trump’s ‘CLOSED’ sign and locked the door again,” ACLU attorney Manar Waheed said. “This decision prevents thousands of black and brown immigrants who meet all the legal requirements to immigrate to the US from doing so, perpetuating Trump’s ban.”
For all its good intentions, the Biden administration may be hamstrung by the law.
The US State Department is limited by law to issuing 55,000 diversity visas a year by lottery, with a specific number set aside for various parts of the world.
Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, on Monday told Reuters that the rules require applicants to demonstrate their qualifications within the same fiscal year they won the chance of a visa. For many, that time has elapsed.
Ayoub’s group has lobbied the administration to bypass this by granting “humanitarian parole” to those still hurt by the travel ban. This can be issued to people “who are otherwise inadmissible into the US for a temporary period of time due to an emergency”.
Once landed in the US, a more permanent solution to grant residency could be worked on, Ayoub said.
“If you call the Muslim ban discriminatory and a stain, then you should rectify what was done.”