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Rights groups, progressives 'infuriated' over Biden's visa decision on Muslim ban

Muslim Advocates say administration 'is not doing enough' to provide meaningful help for those affected by Trump's executive order
President Joe Biden overturned Donald Trump's travel ban of mostly Muslim-majority and African countries, calling it "a stain on our national conscience".
President Joe Biden overturned Donald Trump's travel ban of mostly Muslim-majority and African countries, calling it "a stain on our national conscience" (AFP)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

Rights groups have expressed outrage over a decision by the Biden administration to make individuals who were denied a visa under former President Trump's "Muslim ban" reapply and pay additional application fees.

While allowing those who received a final refusal on their visa application on or after 20 January 2020 to seek re-adjudication without any extra steps, the State Department said anyone denied before that date would have to reapply and pay a new application fee.

It also said applicants selected in the diversity visa lottery prior to the current fiscal year were barred by US law from being issued visas if they had not received them already.

The decision, which comes as part of a 45-day review issued by Biden on his first day in office, was met with heavy criticism by rights and immigration groups who said that the president was maintaining the harm caused by the Trump administration.

'The Biden administration got the headlines that they wanted on day one by repealing the ban'

- Diala Shamas, Center for Constitutional Rights

"The Biden administration got the headlines that they wanted on day one by repealing the ban. And that was an important first move, but all of us were bracing to see the fine print of that decision," Diala Shamas, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), told Middle East Eye.

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"And now we have the fine print and we see that it is not as sweeping as is necessary, and doesn't fully undo the harm caused by the racist and discriminatory African and Muslim bans.

"So it's sending a message that this isn't a priority and that they're not going to be living up to the many promises that they made."

Biden overturned Trump's travel ban of mostly Muslim-majority and African countries, referred to as a Muslim Ban by rights groups, on 20 January, his first day in office, calling it "a stain on our national conscience" in his proclamation.

Yet in response to the State Department's review, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley pointed to the quote by Biden while tweeting a link to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union' (ACLU) that said the president had "locked the door" on the many individuals harmed by Trump's travel ban.

"So the cycle of harm must be broken. This is unacceptable," Pressley said.

Fellow Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib also tweeted the ACLU's statement, saying: "This is infuriating."

'Nothing to help undo Trump's harm'

The State Department said that it was committed to serving individuals affected by the travel ban, but "constrained in several ways by US law or current regulation".

"Current regulations do not provide a basis for immigrant visa cases with a final refusal to be 're-opened' if they are more than a year old without the applicant submitting a new application and fee," Marlo Cross-Durrant, a State Department spokesperson, told MEE.

Cross-Durant added that there was currently no mechanism to allow diversity visa applicants from previous years to seek reconsideration and that any eligible applicants must re-register for the diversity lottery programme next year.

The diversity lottery aims to accept immigrants from countries that are not normally awarded many visas.

"Only Congress may provide an alternate remedy for FY 2017-FY 2020 DV applicants denied visas under PPs 9645 or 9983 or their predecessors," he said, referring to Trump's travel bans.

US says visa applicants denied by Trump 'Muslim ban' can reapply
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Still, some legal experts and immigration rights advocates say the administration can do more to help expedite the processes for previous visa applicants denied under the Muslim ban, and also waive their fees.

Mary Bauer, legal director for Muslim Advocates, said the administration "is not doing enough" to provide meaningful help for those affected by the ban.

"Donald Trump's Muslim Ban cruelly separated families and imposed serious psychological, financial and even physical harm on countless individuals," Bauer said in a statement.

"Disappointingly, after a 45-day review, the Biden administration has chosen to do next to nothing to help undo that harm.

"To those families whose dreams were crushed by the Muslim Ban over the past four years, the Biden administration has sent a clear message: sorry, start over and pay us again."

In an opinion piece published earlier this month, Manar Waheed, the ACLU's advocacy counsel, said the administration should waive application fees and expedite cases so "people are not penalized for the previous administration’s visa denials".

The CCR's Shamas said that "if we learned anything from the Trump administration, it's that the president and the executive have tremendous power over the immigration system, whether we like it or not".

"So I think some of the options that movements are referencing, like expediting processing, are certainly within the realm of possibility."

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