This is how the third version of Trump’s travel ban, the one that the Supreme Court says is lawful, affects one person. One American. One family.
As an immigration lawyer, I met Arua after working with her two brothers, Ali and Mohamed. The three siblings were born in New York City, where they grew up with their parents, who are also U.S. citizens.
When the siblings reached marriage age, their father traveled to Yemen to arrange matches for them. They all married in Yemen, after which they returned to New York to wait for the immediate relative petitions they filed to be approved so their spouses could join them in the United States. Ali and Mohamed came to me after the Saudis bombed their family village, Taiz, in Yemen, where their wives were still living. Meanwhile, the United States closed its embassy in Yemen and the war escalated—Arua’s family neighborhood was destroyed.
I worked with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to push U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, to adjudicate the men’s petitions, which were finally approved. Ali and Mohammad’s wives were able to escape from Yemen and get to Djibouti, where they were finally issued immigrant visas, and join their husbands in New York.
Arua wasn’t as lucky. Her husband got “stuck” in Yemen dodging bullets and bombs while his petition wound its way through the system. In the U.S., Arua was five months pregnant with their first child. Her I-130 immediate relative petition was still waiting approval, so we again contacted Gillibrand, who reached out to USCIS.
Astonishingly, a few weeks after this, USCIS informed us that a pregnant U.S. citizen with a spouse in a war zone did not fit into any of the seven categories for expediting the petition, which include “extreme emergent situation, humanitarian situation and compelling interest of USCIS.”
The months passed by, and Arua was finally called for an interview in Manhattan with a USCIS adjudications officer who approved the petition. The approved petition was then sent to the State Department and Arua paid all the required visa fees. That was October 2016. And November 2016. And February 2017. And March 2017.
In June 2017, we went back to Gillibrand, and Arua’s husband, Ateik, finally had his interview scheduled in Djibouti in July 2017.
But war had closed the border, and Ateik couldn’t get out of Yemen to attend his interview, which had to be rescheduled. Back in New York, Arua was living with their first child, whom Ateik had never met. By the time Ateik was interviewed in December, it had been almost 2 years—21 months—since Arua filed the initial USCIS petition. President Donald Trump’s infamous “travel ban” (as well as the second and third iterations of it) had gone into effect by this point, squashing all hope of an easy approval for any Yemeni native, even the husband and father of U.S. citizens.
Ateik received a letter, which quoted the travel ban and stated, categorically, that a waiver would not be granted in his case. All three versions of the travel ban had stopped the processing of immediate relative visas from Yemeni nationals even as the courts ordered them processed and even though Ateik qualified for a waiver.
In her dissent in the Supreme Court’s ruling on the travel ban, Justice Sonia Sotomayor rightfully pointed out the difference between the court’s majority view that Travel Ban 3.0 allows for waivers and the reality on the ground that virtually none are being granted. Because virtually none are being granted. A U.S. immigration lawyer in Djibouti, whom I reached out to in desperation, told me on background that the consulate wanted to grant waivers but “couldn’t.”
Arua’s and Ateik’s child just turned 2. He has never met his father. Lawyers like me across the country are continuing to fight to force the government to implement its own laws and grant qualifying immigrants like Ateik a waiver. Despite the Supreme Court ruling upholding Trump’s travel ban, I will not stop fighting to bring this husband and father home to live with his family.
But the longer he waits, the more the situation for Ateik continues to deteriorate. He is stuck in Djibouti, a country he cannot afford to live in and has no right to stay in. He cannot return to Yemen because war has destroyed his village. Because of where he happened to be born, he is separated from his family and without a home.
More Americans need to be introduced to the world of Arua, a real person with a real baby without her real husband, who is barred from entering this country because he happens to be from Yemen.
Since this article was first penned in June, Ateik received an email from the State Department in Djibouti informing him that the consular officer is reviewing his eligibility for a waiver under the ban. The letter warns that the review can be a “lengthy process” and that Ateik’s visa application will remain “refused” until a decision is rendered.
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