Six teenage girls from Afghanistan, part of a robotics team, were initially banned from the United States and an international competition, because of Trump extreme vetting policies that attempt to circumvent court decisions limiting Trump immigration bans. Twice the girls’ applications for visas were turned down. Five Moroccan students and a team representing Gambia had their applications put on hold until just before the start of the competition.
It took international protests, intervention by a former Congressman with ties to First Global, the group that sponsors the robotics competition, a State Department reversal, and action by the National Security Council at the request of President Trump for the Islamic students to enter the United States. A Trump spokesperson issued a statement that “We could not be prouder of this delegation of young women who are also scientists — they represent the best of the Afghan people and embody the promise that their aspirations can be fulfilled.” She did not explain why their applications for visas were initially rejected.
Before their first match the Afghan teenagers participated in a demonstration for Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser. Ms. Trump smiled at the Afghani girls and told them “It’s a privilege and an honor to have you all with us,” which evidently was supposed to make up for the Trump administration’s hostility toward the Islamic world.
During his Presidential campaign Trump promised to ban Muslim immigrants, refugees, and visitors. So far his plans have been stymied in the courts. But the State Department, under his direction, has tried to circumvent court rulings through a process they call “extreme vetting.” Essentially that means demanding that applicants produce documents they are unlikely to have available, putting them through an onerous interview process, delaying decisions, and rejections without explanations. As a result of these procedural shifts, nonimmigrant visas to the United States from Muslim-majority countries declined about 20% in April 2017, compared with the monthly average from the previous year. Visas issued to people from Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen, six countries on Trump’s travel ban list, were down by 55%. The Afghan robotics team was not even from a country on the travel ban list.
Another group affected by “extreme vetting” was a troop of actors from Syria scheduled to perform as part of the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City. Their ordeal would be farcical, if it was not so disturbing. They had to prove they had a good reason to visit the United States; that they were not a security threat; and that they would not overstay their visas; conditions that are essentially impossible to prove. Several members of the group were forced to provide access to their social media accounts so U.S. officials could read what they posted. The director of the play was asked if he belonged to a terrorist organization. In the end, eight of the nine-member cast and crew were admitted to the United States where their play, “While I Was Waiting,” made a statement against terrorism, war, and the suppression of freedom.
About the same time as the robotics competition, Maryam Mirzakhani, an award winning Iranian mathematician and professor at Stanford University died of breast cancer at the age of 40. Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, completed a bachelor’s degree at Sharif University of Technology, and came to the United States to study math at Harvard University where she earned her doctorate in 2004. This brilliant scholar chose to make her life in the United States. Would she even have been admitted to the country to study, work, or raise a family by the Trump administration today?
Weeks after the robotics tournament, the father of Afghan team captain Fatemah Qaderyan was killed in a suicide bombing attack at a Shia mosque in Heart, Afghanistan. Thirty-seven people died in the attack and an additional sixty-six were wounded. According to the United Nations mission in Afghanistan it was the fifth attack in 2017 alone on a Shia place of worship. Since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, United States military and foreign policy have effectively destabilized this region of the world contributing to brutal civil war. Local U.S. allies in Afghanistan, including Shia Muslims and the previously persecuted Hazara minority, face genocidal retribution when the United States and other foreign forces ultimately withdraw. Trump’s latest immigration proposal would probably block entry into the United States for Afghans who put their lives at risk to support a U.S. initiated war.
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