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For Yemenis Fleeing War, the U.S. Muslim Ban Means a High Price and Dangerous Wait

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Just recently, Fatima, a U.S. permanent resident originally from Yemen, received a letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asking for more information on her application for an immigrant visa for her husband of four years. Obtaining official paperwork from Yemen right now is not easy given the state of war, but she will proceed under the guidance of a U.S.-based attorney—a resource Yemenis almost always need to navigate the special requirements of U.S. immigration they face, which existed long before the Trump administration’s “Muslim ban” took effect. For more than a decade, Yemenis seeking to reunite their families have been subject to added burdens, such as providing years of financial data proving family support, DNA tests to prove paternity and maternity, and having to sue the U.S. government to move a file forward from a stalled position. Indeed, an immigration attorney told me seven years ago that “you almost have to sue the American government to get a Yemeni case processed.”

At the time, the costs of complying with these extra measures ran $8,000 to $10,000, on average, in addition to a few thousand dollars for the upfront filing fees and transportation costs once a visa was issued. But that was before the U.S. embassy closed its facility in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in February of 2015 after the Houthi takeover, followed closely by the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing campaign that’s still in place. Since then, Yemeni visa processing has largely moved to the U.S. embassy in the nearby country of Djibouti, substantially increasing the costs and risks required to reunify Yemeni families. The risks include a precarious 17-hour, over-land journey from Sana’a to Aden (which used to take three hours) that includes multiple checkpoints, inspections, and bribes, followed by a 13-hour rugged crossing of the Red Sea by boat. The costs include leaving one’s employment, packing up the family, and investing up to tens of thousands of dollars to pay for rent, food, and utilities during the long wait (in some cases more than a year) in Djibouti for a consulate interview and then a visa stamp on the passports. Yet from today’s perspective, those were better times, because prior to the Trump Administration at least the investment paid off by ending family separation.

President Trump’s executive orders and proclamation commonly known as the “Muslim ban” have considerably worsened this already harsh scenario. Within a week of taking office, Trump issued an executive order prohibiting for 90 days the U.S. entry of most nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also halted most refugee admissions for 120 days, and indefinitely banned the entry of Syrian refugees. The ban immediately created mass chaos for persons in transit at airports across the globe and at U.S. ports of entry. Though variations of the ban were challenged in court, an updated version was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June of 2018. The latest iteration—known as Proclamation 9645—bans most nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Chad (which has since been removed), as well as certain Venezuelan diplomats. These measures by President Trump were interpreted by many as an effort to fulfill his campaign promise to implement a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” For its part, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals wrote that the ban “speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”  Read the Whole Article

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