Immigrant and refugee supporters applauded when President Joe Biden eased a restriction on persons from predominantly Muslim countries entering the United States on his first day in office.

Thousands of people who had been denied the opportunity to be with loved ones due to the Trump administration were given long-awaited relief and hope of reconnection as a result of the move. However, supporters argue that little has changed since they were initially thankful and enthusiastic, and that most applicants have yet to be reunited with their families or even informed of their status.

“We were trying our best to be patient, but this is unacceptable,” Aarti Kohli, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, said (AAAJ-ALC). “We’ve seen very little progress, and people have suffered in the meantime.”

Kohli’s San Francisco-based nonprofit was one of over 100 immigrant and refugee support organizations from across the country who signed a letter urging Biden to follow through. The No Muslim Ban Ever Campaign and the National Iranian American Council spearheaded the endeavor.

“Where the rescission should have been a beacon of hope for those denied under the ban, many have instead given up on their dreams of coming to the United States,” Donna Farvard, the Iranian council’s national organizing director, said in a statement. “The Biden administration must take immediate action to right these wrongs.”

Advocates point to cases like Marziyeh Ehtesab, an Iranian woman who desired to join her lonely sister in the United States, and Mohammed Mushin Abulla, a Yemeni man who mortgaged land and sold belongings to pay for his application interviews in Malaysia. After great effort and money, both were granted visas through the United States’ diversity visa lottery program – only to have them canceled as a result of former President Donald Trump’s travel ban based on their countries of origin.

Despite scant indication of any systematic evaluation of relevant national security risks, Trump’s executive order from 2017 barred citizens from specified nations from entering the United States.

Many people who were planning or were compelled to leave their nations to be with loved ones in the United States were thrown off by the edict. According to campaigners, more than 41,000 people were expressly denied visas as a result of the decision, and that number does not include those who were deterred from applying in the future.

Two versions of the ban were rejected by federal judges as being discriminatory on religious grounds, but the United States Supreme Court accepted a third version in 2018, barring travelers from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and North Korea. A similar restriction was enacted two years later, right before Trump left office, adding Nigeria, Sudan, and Myanmar to the list of African and Asian countries.

Confusion and disappointment followed elation and hope.
Biden’s proclamation restoring the bans required the State Department to present a strategy to expedite applications denied or delayed as a result of the regulations within 45 days.

The Iranian Council’s policy director, Ryan Costello, stated, “We were thrilled by his day-one priority and thought it would lead to a major uptick” in visa processing. “But that hasn’t been the case. The relief has not been felt on the ground.”

Instead, according to Hammad Alam, AAAJ-national ALC’s security and civil rights program manager, the department’s instructions muddled the process even more, arbitrarily cutting off those who applied for visas before a certain date for no apparent reason and providing little to no guidance on when applicants should contact officials or vice versa.

The State Department also did not grant eligibility reconsideration to people who were granted visas through the diversity visa program, such as Iran’s Ehtesab and Yemen’s Abulla.

Furthermore, while the department has stated that it will waive re-application fees for individuals denied visas as a result of the restriction, Alam claims that the online system for doing so has not been changed to reflect this, leaving applicants with the option of paying the fees or not reapplying at all. Fees for exemptions and other services, as well as mandatory medical tests and accompanying travel expenditures, can range from $200 to nearly $800.

Individuals who do apply are caught in an immigration snarl exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to campaigners, and many have no idea what their status is. Some people have just given up on their dream of relocating to the United States, and have been forced to reside in countries where they have no family.

“What it comes down to is administrative delay,” Alam explained. “There’s a lack of consistency across the board on what families should do. Even immigration lawyers are confused.”

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Oxfam America, Georgia Muslim Voter Project, South Dakota Voices for Peace, and Human Rights Initiative of North Texas are among the 108 organizations that signed the letter to Biden. It lays out 13 legislative recommendations that backers claim will help to alleviate the issue, which affects individuals wishing to reunite with loved ones in the United States, as well as those looking for work or medical care.

In addition to reconsidering and expediting applications from those who have been denied due to the ban, the letter urges Biden to provide clarity to affected communities, restore consular services to pre-ban levels, and address the federal anti-terrorism policies that led to the bans in the first place.

In a statement, Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, stated, “It is unacceptable that families separated under these draconian Trump policies remain apart and in limbo,” “We urge the Biden administration to fully follow through on his campaign promises, provide meaningful relief and restore due process for those impacted.”

According to Alam of the AAAJ-ALC, it’s unclear how many people have been able to secure visas after being denied under the ban, but in many cases, families are forced to contact U.S. embassies on their own.

He explained, “We don’t have enough lawyers to represent them all,” “And if there’s no clear guidance, if even immigration lawyers are confused, how are the families supposed to navigate that? The government owes these people some remedy and respect.”