Critics blast Biden administration for denying entry to thousands of people still affected by Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’

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Anwar Alsaeedi sits with his children at their home in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. Alsaeedi, who had hoped to provide his two children with a better future, said he rejoiced in 2017 when he was picked for the lottery’s “diversity visa” interview. Then he was ineligible due to the Trump administration’s travel ban that affected several Muslim-majority nations. “Our country is embroiled in wars and crises and we’ve lost everything,” he said. “Making it to America is a big dream.” AP Photo/Hani Mohammed
  • The Biden administration said it would offer visas to people denied entry due to Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban.”
  • But the administration is not granting entry to those who had obtained “diversity visas.”
  • Thousands of such visas are issued each year to members of underrepresented groups.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The last administration’s ban on travel from several majority-Muslim nations was “morally wrong,” in the words of President Joe Biden. But the new administration is denying entry to thousands of people who were affected by it.

Biden, soon after taking office, rescinded the so-called “Muslim ban.” And, this week, his administration announced that a majority of those who were denied entry to the US because of it could apply again for a visa.

But the White House left out one significant group: thousands of people who were selected to receive “diversity visas” – intended, as the name suggests, to encourage migration from underrepresented people – only to have them taken away by an executive order by Donald Trump, who then tried to eliminate the diversity program altogether.

People like Anwar al Saeedi, a Yemeni man who in 2017 expected to be moving to the US with his wife and two young children.

“It was a big dream for me to be able to move my children to America to live in a respectable country, which respects human rights and where it’s possible to live in safety,” he told NPR earlier this year. He is, instead, living in the African nation of Djibouti, where he traveled with his family, spending thousands of dollars to attend interviews for his visa (the US embassy in Yemen has been shuttered amid years of war).

“It’s disheartening and disappointing,” Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told Insider. The committee represents people like Anwar who made plans for a new life, only for it to be denied.

“These individuals are in a worse off position now,” Ayoub said, “because this government, regardless of whether it’s Biden or Trump, made a promise to them and they acted on that.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, one of several groups to challenge Trump’s travel ban, called the new administration’s decision a disgrace.

“President Biden just dusted off Trump’s ‘CLOSED’ sign and locked the door behind him,” the ACLU attorney Manar Waheed said in a statement. “This decision threatens to forever prevent thousands of Black and Brown immigrants who meet all of the legal requirements to immigrate to the United States from doing so, perpetuating the effects of the discriminatory ban.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why it excluded diversity visa recipients from its reversal of the Muslim ban.

But one reason could be the law: The US State Department is limited to issuing 55,000 diversity visas a year, with a specific number set aside for various parts of the world. According to Reuters, Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson, on Monday said that the statute authorizing the program also requires applicants to demonstrate their qualifications within the same fiscal year they were chosen.

Ayoub thinks that’s something of a cop-out. His group had lobbied the administration to bypass any legal issue by granting “humanitarian parole” to those still hurt by the travel ban. Said parole can be issued, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, to someone “who is otherwise inadmissible into the United States for a temporary period of time due to an emergency.”

From there, a more permanent solution could be worked on. Ayoub said the goal now is legislation that would allow those on humanitarian parole to apply for asylum or some other residency-granting legal status once they are here.

“But we need the administration and Congress to be on the same page,” he said. “If you call the Muslim ban discriminatory, and you call it a stain, then you should the full extent to rectify what was done.”

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