JFON clients, legal residents, and U.S. citizens harmed from this latest assault on immigrants
The Trump Administration rolled out their new expanded “travel ban” on February 22, barring citizens from four countries—Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria —from obtaining immigrant visas to the U.S. and citizens from Sudan and Tanzania from immigrating here though the diversity visa lottery.
Travelers and those visiting on a temporary, non-immigrant visa from these six countries can still enter the U.S. without incident, as long as they have no intention of staying here.
So the idea that this new restriction has anything to do with national security can be put firmly to rest. This isn’t a “travel ban” with its supposed intention of rooting out potential terrorists. This is a ban on immigration.
This is also a ban on family reunification, one that punishes not only foreign nationals, but U.S. permanent residents and American citizens who hope to be reunited with their spouses, children, and other close relatives. Nearly two-thirds of green cards issued annually are the result of family sponsorship.
In the last five years, we’ve helped 1,578 clients from these six banned countries. Many of them have since become lawful permanent residents (green card holders) or U.S. citizens. They then have the legal right to petition for their close relatives to join them in their new country.
At least, they did have that right.
June Keith, staff attorney with Iowa JFON, estimates that their site has close to 50 clients who are in the process of petitioning for their relatives in these banned countries. Six of them are already in the consular process—which is to say, very close to the end of their ordeal.
Iowa JFON serves a large Burmese refugee population—they report an astounding 270 Burmese clients in 2019 alone. Eritreans make up a smaller proportion of their clientele—Iowa JFON served 35 of their Eritrean neighbors last year.
Tesfay, a former refugee from Eritrea, first petitioned for his wife in 2017. “Why are they doing this?” he asks tearfully. “We have waited so long. I have worked so hard to get her here.”
June is applying for waivers—not the most promising option, given the current track record—and hopes that the governments of Burma, Eritrea, and the other impacted countries will work with the U.S. to get the ban lifted.
But advising clients to be patient is no easy task.
“It’s heartbreaking,” says June. “Especially when you have them so close, and then find that it is suddenly taken away from them.”