How US Travel Restrictions Are Affecting Families

23 April, 2018

The Supreme Court of the United States is preparing to hear arguments involving President Donald Trump's immigration policies.

The court meets Wednesday to consider whether Trump's 2017 restrictions on travel and immigration from some countries are legal. The measures mostly affect people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Visitors from North Korea and Venezuela also were affected, but the two countries are not part of the case.

Whatever the high court decides, the restrictions have already shaped the lives of many people.

International passengers arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles.
International passengers arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles.

From Yemen to New York

Radad Alborati came to the United States from Yemen over 20 years ago, when he was a teenager. He became a U.S. citizen in 2010.

Today, Alborati lives in New York City and works at night in a small store. But his wife remains in Yemen. She and her husband have known each other since they were children. For years, he has tried to bring her and their three sons to New York.

Last autumn, when U.S. courts temporarily blocked the travel restrictions, Alborati was able to get visas for his sons. The boys came to New York. But his wife was not permitted to travel with them. The U.S. embassy in Yemen said in a letter that she was not eligible for a visa. And, it said, the decision could not be appealed. In other words, she should not ask again.

Now, the family is waiting to hear what the Supreme Court says. The boys, ages 10 to 16, live with three separate sets of family friends because Alborati worries about them being alone while he works.

Alborati also worries about his wife. She is back in Yemen, where more than 10,000 people have died in fighting over the past three years.

Alborati says he understands that U.S. government policymakers want to keep the country safer. But he says, "Separating families – that is sick."

Men inspect the site of an air strike in Sanaa, Yemen, April 20, 2018.
Men inspect the site of an air strike in Sanaa, Yemen, April 20, 2018.

U.S. policymakers

The president's goal for the travel ban was not to separate families. Trump said he aimed to "keep radical Islamic terrorists out" of the country.

Other people connected to Trump's administration have made similar comments. James Carafano helped the administration in its early days. He is a national security expert at the Heritage Foundation, a public policy group based in Washington, DC.

Carafano says the travel restrictions resulted from concerns that Islamic State fighters could target the United States.

He said the threat was real, and policymakers were answering the risk. He said: "What do we need to do to protect the nation, and what do we need to do to help people who need help, and what is the balance? We do the best we can."

State Department officials have said that the restrictions aim to urge foreign governments to share information, and to protect the U.S. until they do.

But critics of the ban say the policy is a form of illegal discrimination based on religion and nationality. They point out that most people affected by the restrictions are from countries that are mostly Muslim. And they recall Trump's words while he was a candidate for president. He called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

From Iran to California

U.S. officials will not discuss any individual cases, but the restrictions are felt by individuals.

Payam Iafari is another example. He is from Iran, but had a student visa to study at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Iafari says that he wanted to visit his family in Tehran last summer and celebrate earning his master's degree in filmmaking. But he did not make the trip. He said he could not risk going home in case the immigration policy changes again. He is still in California, seeking a career in the film industry, but missing his family.

The separation and uncertainty is especially hard on his mother. In an email, she wrote, "Waiting for what will happen in the end – this is very difficult for a mother."

His sister noted "Politics treats everyone in the world's lives like toys. We all get burned in the end."

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Jennifer Peltz reported this story for the Associated Press. AP writers Amy Forliti, Josh Lederman, and Lee Keath provided information for the story. Kelly Jean Kelly adapted the report from VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

teenagern. someone between 13 and 19 years of age

eligibleadj. worthy of being chosen

radicaladj. extreme; very different from the traditional

shutdownn. the suspension of an activity

master's degree – n. a recognition that is given to someone who completes a study program of one or two years after attending a college or university

uncertaintyadj. something that is unknown

toyn. a play thing

expirev. to come to an end; no longer legal after a period of time