Muslim Ban Leaves Hundreds Of Yemeni Diversity Lottery Winners Among Others Stranded

08/05/2017 01:18 pm ET Updated Aug 09, 2017
Zoom interview with stranded Diversity Visa lottery winners.
Dr. Debbie Almontaser
Zoom interview with stranded Diversity Visa lottery winners.

Thousands of people are now stranded all over the world without help, answers, or funds to survive. What has caused this huge displacement, you may ask? It is the unconstitutional Travel Ban, which in reality is a ban targeting Muslims from Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iran, Sudan and Somalia.

Lottery Diversity Visa recipients from the six banned countries are now stranded in different parts of the world with little to no money. Their hopes and dreams of coming to America and being able to provide for their family have been put to a halt. On Friday, Aug. 4, a federal lawsuit challenging the State Department’s refusal to process visa applications for winners of the U.S. Diversity Visa Program lottery who hail from the six countries covered by President Trump’s Muslim Ban was filed by ADC, ACLU Nationwide and National Immigration Law Center, along with Jenner and Block Law Firm.

The Diversity Visa Lottery Program provides a limited number of immigrants from countries with historically low immigration rates visas to come to the United States. The randomly selected winners receive a visa, provided that they satisfy the eligibility requirements and qualify under the government’s general rules for visas. Annually, only 50,000 diversity visas are awarded.

Over the last 10 years, 16 million people on average have applied annually for this lottery. Lottery recipients undergo a thorough vetting process prior to being offered a diversity visa. Yemeni lottery winners, among others, are now among those who are in visa processing limbo due to the partial enactment of the Muslim Ban. These are people who went through the entire visa process and followed each protocol to receive a visa interview, which are: high school education/or its equivalent, or two years of qualifying work experience as defined under provisions of U.S. law; as well as submitted all the required documents for themselves and family members following the Diversity Visa Lottery guidelines.

Many Yemeni lottery winners have sold their homes, cars, businesses, and even the jewelry of their mothers or their wives to be able to have enough money to make it to the U.S. and then are tragically left in visa processing limbo or rejected. Where are they supposed to go?

Immigration lawyer, Julie Goldberg via the Associated Press, describes the state that these people are in and says: “It’s super frustrating. They are running out of money. Djibouti is very expensive. They can’t go back to Yemen, they would be killed.”

These individuals have spent all the money they had to arrive for their interview and to support themselves until the interviews are over and approved.

Sadly, many of these lottery winners have said to be sent an email from the U.S. government stating “it is plausible that your case will not be issuable” because of the travel ban. On July 11, we were fortunate enough to speak to a number of these individuals who shared their story with us firsthand.

Abdul-Rahman, Edres, Hamed, Fadhel, Rafiq, and Sadek are only a fraction of individuals who are in visa proceedings limbo. Lottery winners explained that the process and interview questions were ambiguous with the intention to make it difficult to pass the interviews. Each case was like the next: stories of disrespect, tedious and repetitive processes, and unfair treatment throughout the process.

These Yemeni lottery winners have spent months waiting for their interview ― getting all their documents notarized and organized, making sure they have everything they need and more to show as proof ― and then within minutes are rejected when asked questions unrelated to the Diversity Visa Lottery process. They talked about U.S. consulates asking for high school transcripts or questions about their classmates from decades ago, and similar questions that have nothing to do with their visas or immigration case. With their hopes and dreams in their suitcases, these U.S. consulates intentionally destroy every last hope that these people have for survival and pursuit of happiness and safety.

For some lottery winners, the struggle and anxiety comes from the reality the 90-day travel ban will expire on Sept. 27, 2017. That is three days before their eligibility for the green cards expires. According to Reuters, “Given the slow pace of the immigration process, the State Department will likely struggle to issue their visas in time.”

Many of these lottery winners at this point have no money to live day to day, never mind having enough money to go back home. And going back to Yemen would be a risk within itself.

The current state of Yemen is truly horrendous. Cholera has infected and taken the lives of thousands of people. It is the world’s worst Cholera outbreak to have ever happen. According to the World Health Organization, more than 300,000 cases have been reported, with a whopping 5,000 new cases a day.

Not to mention there is a huge humanitarian crisis due to the ongoing civil war and airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and its Allies. There is no turning back for these lottery winners with the state of Yemen in disarray.

The travel ban prevents immigration from these countries; however, there is a lottery process that they went through promising them a visa long before the travel ban was introduced. Given what we know about Yemen, this visa is their ticket to safety.

These lottery winners are living on their last dime and are losing hope. Many have spent all of their savings and are not allowed to work in the countries they have traveled to for their visa interviews. The lottery winners we spoke to reported 8-10 people are living in a one-bedroom apartment and living off of one meal a day. They mentioned many don’t even have the means to fly back to Yemen. Where is the justice for these people who sold everything for this dream and opportunity to come to the U.S. then were wrongfully denied? This indeed is a humanitarian crisis, and it will continue to get worse if there is no intervention.

The system has failed them, and we should not fail them, either. We must stand with them and support them through this ordeal. To aid these lottery winners, a Launchgood campaign, "Yemenis Affected By Trump’s Muslim Ban," was created to help these individuals eat a meal and pay their rent and, if all else fails, an airline ticket to fly back home. Anything donated will help these individuals get through another day.

After connecting with many of the Yemeni diversity visa lottery winners in the last couple of weeks, their voices and stories remain etched in our minds. We are grateful that through the filing of a federal lawsuit challenging the State Department’s refusal to process visa applications, the world will learn of their broken promise to the American dream for all the countries affected by Muslim Ban. We will tirelessly stand with them until they get the judicial relief they deserve.

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