Viewpoints

Trump’s Muslim ban: One year later, it’s still a failure that tears families apart

Father buries toddler days after the family is reunited

Ali Hassan buries his 2-year-old son at the Islamic Cemetery in Lodi on Dec. 29, 2018 after he died from a brain disease. His Yemeni mother was blocked from seeing see him because of travel restrictions instituted by the Trump administration.
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Ali Hassan buries his 2-year-old son at the Islamic Cemetery in Lodi on Dec. 29, 2018 after he died from a brain disease. His Yemeni mother was blocked from seeing see him because of travel restrictions instituted by the Trump administration.

One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban, an executive order which restricts citizens from five Muslim-majority countries – plus North Korea and Venezuela – from coming to the U.S. on immigrant and non-immigrant visas.

The court confirmed that the president had authority to restrict the entry of individuals into the U.S. based on national security judgments. The ruling was based, in part, on the existence of a visa waiver program – a way for visitors to come into the country if they met a few, seemingly simple criteria. Waiver applicants had to show three things: they would suffer “undue hardship” if not allowed to enter, it was in the U.S. national interest and they didn’t pose a national security threat.

The Supreme Court ruling was based on the idea that these criteria would be applied evenly and clearly. From my experience working with constituents in Sacramento County, it has become clear to me that the administration’s waiver process is a failure and a sham.

In my district, a young girl named Omnia, who was born in Libya to an American mother and Libyan father, was separated from her family for nine months due to the Trump travel ban. Her mother took Omnia to a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, where the interview was only minutes long with no questions. Instead, the State Department official informed the family that although the paperwork was in order, they still could not issue the visa for the then 2-year-old.

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Omnia’s mother was seven months pregnant at the time. She was told to return to the U.S. to have her second child and return to Libya to retrieve her first born when the travel ban was over – presumably in two to six more years, if ever.

What was supposed to happen was a waiver should have been issued. That’s what the Supreme Court ruled and the U.S. Department of State said they could do, ensuring we are keeping out the bad guys but letting in 2-year-olds who should be with their mothers. Only after nine months of separation was Omnia finally reunited with her family in the U.S.

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U.S. House Office of Photography

There are

countless of stories

like Omnia’s all throughout the country. There’s the case of a

Yemeni mother

who fought to obtain a visa waiver to travel to California to see her terminally ill son. After widespread media coverage, she was finally granted a waiver to visit the U.S. just days before he passed away.

In cases like these, a 2-year-old and a mother coming to see her dying son clearly does not present a national security threat to the U.S. It’s unacceptable that these families had to endure so much hardship.

As chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, we’re looking into stories like Omnia’s and trying to figure out what exactly the administration’s visa waiver process is.

There are serious red flags about the waiver process – how it is being implemented unevenly and with little guidance – and that granted waivers are not leading to the issuance of visas for cleared individuals. My concern is further heightened by the case of Omnia and others across the country.

We must continue to shine a spotlight on the millions of Americans whose lives have been thrown into chaos due to the president’s reckless and ill-advised policy. In a country like ours, tragedies like this should never happen.

We cannot let stories like Omnia’s go unnoticed. These are the real stories of the president’s travel ban.

U.S. Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

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