HOUSTON – When President Joe Biden lifted former President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrant visas from many Muslim-majority countries on his first day in office, those eagerly awaiting the change were elated.
âI was so happy, so happy,â said Safieh Mohammadi, an American green card holder who lives in Houston and has been separated for five years from her Iranian husband, Bahram, who is currently in Canada. âI started doing something since I knew my husband was coming. So I went shopping, got a blanket for my bed. I wanted to do something, you know, because I thought he was coming.
Corn The overthrow of Biden of any of Trump’s signing actions did not result in a flood of airport meetings or rapid changes to his visa application. Instead, like almost all families who have been affected by the ban, their case is stuck in limbo. Her case is pending and she has no idea when her family will be reunited again.
âI have to take care of my child, go to work, go to school and handle everything like a single mother,â she said. âI am not a single mother. So it’s really hard. I just want my family to come back. That’s it. We came here legally and my husband wants to come here legally.
Mohammadi is just one of thousands across America who still live apart from their loved ones due to what has been widely dubbed the former president’s âban on Muslimsâ. Her sister Massy, ââan American citizen, has been separated from her adult children for years.
Trump’s executive order in 2017 sparked mass protests at airports and major cities across the country. Several iterations of the ban were challenged by the court system and overturned in the courts, but one version was eventually confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2018. Different countries were added to the list, with what was eventually known as Presidential Proclamations 9645 and 9983 banning most immigrants from 13 countries: Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Nigeria, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Venezuela and Yemen.
As of last September, more than 40,000 requests were refused because of the bans, according to state department figures. But that number does not include people with pending applications or the unknown number of people from those countries who never initially applied for fear of being rejected.
These cases are included in what has grown into a huge immigrant visa backlog that has grown dramatically over the past year, in part thanks to coronavirus travel restrictions and social distancing, closures and adjustments in embassies and consulates abroad.
As of January 2020, around 75,000 immigrant visa cases were on hold at the National Visa Center, ready for interviews, but as of February 2021, there were 473,000 cases, said Julie Stufft, acting deputy secretary. visa services. announced at a briefing earlier this month. This number does not even include cases where applicants have not yet been interviewed or individuals are still in the process of gathering the necessary documents.
A State Department official cited the decline in income from the coronavirus as the reason this visa backlog is piling up, telling NBC News in a statement: âThe Office of Consular Affairs is primarily dependent on visa fee income. and passport to finance our operations. The dramatic reductions in fee income due to the pandemic will have a continuing impact on our staff and available resources for many years to come. “
Trump’s freeze on green cards issued during the pandemic last year in an attempt to protect the U.S. job market has also contributed to the backlog. Biden resumed issuing them in February.
There is no timeline for how long these cases could be treated, which only adds to the anxiety for people who have already been separated for years.
For Mosed Mohamed and his son, American citizens who have lived in the Bay Area of ââCalifornia, every day without their intact families has been difficult. His Yemeni wife lives in Cairo, separated from them as they face many health problems.
While Biden rescinded the bans offered some hope and Mosed recently received an email from the embassy to resubmit his wife’s documents, he describes the waiting game as brutal, “running in a tunnel with all darkness there is no end “.
“We’re not asking for anything else – just being together with the family, the one family, that’s all,” he said. âJust looking at your kids, in front of your eyes, you know, it’s hard. I mean, we are working hard to get to America, to live the dream, but not for me or for my son only. I need my wife to be there, because without her, I mean, the family isn’t there, it’s nothing.
Mohamed’s immigration lawyer Lina Baroudi, who represents a number of cases related to the travel ban, said he was his only client to have received a recent update.
âWhat I see is a tragedy on all levels,â she said. âI don’t want to just frame it because it’s a sad situation because it’s more than that, it’s maddening. Because it is something that can be changed by the US government, and it has to take responsibility. … I have all kinds of cases, you know, of spouses trying to reunite with their spouses, with their children. I have a few cases of US citizen parents who have petitioned for their children. Their adult children are basically in limbo waiting to come here.
Safieh Mohammadi even wrote a personal letter to Biden asking for help in speeding up his case. âI know he’s busy with Covid and everything in the country, but I asked him if it was possible to do something for us,â she said.
Her immigration attorney, Mana Yegani, called the situation heartbreaking because “America is a place where we take pride in the family unit, and we can see that separated families like this really have a negative impact on people “.
âIf Trump’s travel ban were not enforced, Bahram would currently be in the United States with a green card,â she said. âHis case was about to get a visa when the travel ban was signed, which delayed his case for years. And now, unfortunately, he’s fallen into the backlog of the system.