Fifteen foreign nationals have been issued visas after challenging the Trump administration's travel ban in federal court. These include nine Iranians and six Syrians, who have been granted visas and are in the process of joining family members in the United States.
Nisrin Tahan, a 28-year-old Syrian national, was among the plaintiffs, said her husband Yaser Baghdadi, a Bronx resident. She has lived in Saudi Arabia since the two married in 2016 but will be arriving in the U.S. next month.
“It was a horrible experience,” said Baghdadi, “and I'm glad that it worked out, and I still believe in the U.S.”
Baghdadi, a physician who specializes in neuromedicine, said the separation was painful and forced him to regularly leave the country so he could spend time with his wife.
“It's going to be a black spot on the history” of the United States, he said.
Tahan intends to pursue a graduate degree in nutrition, and fits a larger profile of plaintiffs who bring ambitions and professional skills to the U.S.
"A lot of them are PhD holders and have advanced degrees,” said Rafael Urena, an attorney who represented the fifteen plaintiffs, who dropped their legal challenges this week after the visas were issued.
The group also includes a 14-year-old Syrian. According to Urena, the child automatically receives U.S. citizenship, as per the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which states that it “makes it possible for foreign-born children who did not acquire U.S. citizenship at birth through a U.S. citizen parent to acquire U.S. citizenship automatically upon fulfillment of certain conditions while under the age of 18.”
Dr. Aref Al Naib, a dentist who was living in Cairo, has already joined his wife and her family in Wisconsin.
“I need to go through the national dental board exams and apply to school to obtain a dental license in the States, so now I am preparing for the first exam.”
He said the emotional cost of the travel ban was “devastating.”
“The impact is losing two and a half years from my life,” he said.
“My wife suffered a lot, since she was the one traveling for more than 6,000 miles to see me every three months, missing her work for at least 3 weeks, paying for flights just to be temporarily with her husband because of the travel ban,” he said.
Over the course of two years, he said his wife made ten trips to Egypt, “so you can imagine how much money we paid for flights only.”
Urena said it’s not clear why some people are receiving waivers to the travel ban and most others are not.
“It seems completely random at this point, other than applicants seeking redress in federal court.”
Although the travel ban was ostensibly implemented to ensure national security, Urena argued that a “blanket denial of entry” serves no purpose “other than fulfilling a campaign promise based on bigotry.” President Donald Trump had first proposed the idea of a “Muslim ban” while running for president. Although it was vigorously challenged in court, the Supreme Court upheld the presidential proclamation in June, 2018. In addition to several Muslim-majority nations, it affects Venezuela and North Korea.
Waivers to the travel ban, while not unheard of, are relatively rare. According to a State Department correspondence from earlier this year, 5.9 percent of applicants from countries affected by the travel ban were found to have qualified for waivers as of October 31, 2018.
“The burden of proof is on the alien to establish that they are eligible for a visa and a waiver to the satisfaction of the consular official,” wrote Mary Elizabeth Taylor, Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs in a letter to Senator Chris Van Hollen.