Biden Must Do More for People Still Hurting From the Muslim and African Ban
THE TORCH: CONTENTS By Haddy Gassama
July 25, 2022
On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order that rescinded the Muslim and African Ban, saying that the former administration’s policies were “contravening our values” and had left “a stain on our national conscience.” While he was right that the ban represented a dark chapter in this country’s history, his administration’s subsequent actions have not fully undone its harms.
I have worked with some of the thousands of individuals who were barred and are still separated from their families, awaiting relief and the chance to finally reunite. More than a year later, many of them continue to fight for their chance to immigrate to the U.S. through several lawsuits challenging the government’s procedures in implementing the ban. Recently, the Biden administration filed a brief doubling down on its decision to continue banning aspiring newcomers who were unable to enter due to the ban. The administration reasoned that the case is moot – an affront to thousands of people whose lives have been turned upside down by a discriminatory policy that should have never existed in the first place.
Individuals who won diversity visas between 2017 and 2020, often after making enormous sacrifices, are one of the groups still barred from entering the country. The Biden administration has argued that these diversity visa winners have no legal recourse and, frustratingly, their only hope is to reapply again to a program that carries once-in-a-lifetime odds of success.
The diversity visa program selects potential immigrants from countries that generally have low immigration numbers, and was established with bipartisan support by Congress to diversify immigration to the United States, offering individuals the opportunity to build a life here and contribute to our communities. An average of 13 million people from around the world apply to the diversity lottery each year. Only 55,000—less than half a percent of applicants—are granted a chance to apply for a visa, and even those fifty-five thousand aren’t guaranteed entry or residency, but only the mere chance to apply. Once selected, they often forgo other job offers and educational opportunities, and defer important life decisions such as marriage in order to go through the application process.
In line with other trends of anti-Black racism in the U.S. immigration system at large, immigrants from African countries are disproportionately impacted by the denial of diversity lottery visas. Historically, immigrants from Africa have relied heavily on the diversity visa program as a means to immigrate to the U.S., given that other types of visas or avenues of migration require them to have family members or strong close contacts in the United States in order to qualify. Statistics show that, historically, 39% of all diversity visa immigrants were from Africa, even with an application approval rate below 50 percent.
Omer Mohamed, a Sudanese electrical engineer, is one heartbreaking example of the impact the ban has had on diversity visa winners. When he won his visa in 2019, he thought it was his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. and support his elderly parents and family in Khartoum. Omer’s mother sold what remained of her heirloom jewelry so that he could afford the $300 interview fee. Despite this, Mohamed’s visa was rejected solely because of the discriminatory Muslim and African Ban.
Ramin Raghifar of Iran is another example of a life in limbo. He won the diversity visa after 15 years of applying. Ramin had always dreamed of traveling to the U.S. to practice medicine and advance his research in dermatology and radiology. He was so committed to the prospect of contributing to research in the U.S. that he was even willing to pass up other job opportunities and delay marriage. His visa, too, was denied due to the ban.
For Omer, Ramin, and thousands of others, the only hope to complete their journey to America is through legal action. This is why they are closely following the multiple lawsuits that have been filed against the U.S. government for failure to repair the harms of the ban. While the courts have previously indicated that the U.S. can or must proceed with remedying the harm to diversity visa applicants, the Biden administration has, perplexingly, fought to uphold the Trump administration’s previous policies—indeed, the same policies that Mr. Biden denounced on day one of his presidency.
Despite the administration’s disappointing recent court filing, it still has the opportunity to bring its policy in line with the values President Biden conveyed when issuing his executive order to repeal the ban. The administration can do this by dropping its legal defense of discriminatory policies that continue to devastate families to this day, and by allowing those who patiently and diligently worked for their right to immigrate to complete their journeys.
Haddy Gassama, Esq., is national director of policy and advocacy for the UndocuBlack Network, a member of the No Muslim Ban Ever coalition.