As the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on President Trump’s latest travel ban on Wednesday, families wonder whether this may be a turning point in their effort to reunite with loved ones overseas.
In December, the Supreme Court temporarily allowed the current version of the ban to go into full effect. Varying degrees of restrictions are placed on foreign nationals from eight countries, five of which have Muslim-majority populations.
But even before this version of the travel ban, two previous editions had stalled immigration visa processes that were then underway, according to both immigration attorneys and US citizens trying to bring their families to America.
Even the supposed exception for people with “bona fide relationships” to US citizens was rendered meaningless in the bureaucracy they faced.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June.
Here are the stories of two families, working toward resolution.
Activist separated from husband: ‘I’ve got due rights. I have the Constitution’
Rabyaah Althaibani is a United States citizen who became active in Yemeni issues at the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. She met a Yemeni journalist, and over the course of the next several years, fell in love.
Her husband’s safety was at risk in Yemen, given his outspoken views against Islamic radicalism. When war broke out in 2015, he left his home country. The two were married in India in 2016.
Althaibani said after their wedding, she petitioned for him to join her in the United States. At first, the process went relatively smoothly. But in January of 2017, when President Trump rolled out his first travel ban, the process stalled.
While that ban was blocked by a federal judge, the Trump administration revealed a new ban in March of 2017.
Althaibani said that for those who were already far along in the immigration process, “it seemed liked everybody – children, anyone, everyone – that was already finished, completed everything, would go through what they call administrative processing, which is AP status. And this AP status is like a black hole.”
She said she has constitutional rights as an American citizen to bring her husband into the country.
“These are like, really clear laws that we have,” Althaibani said. “It kind of made me question also the whole idea of being an American: What does that mean anymore?”
But Althaibani is counting herself lucky now. After two and a half years of being separated from her husband, who has been waiting in safety in Malaysia, he has finally been granted a waiver.
His flight is scheduled to arrive in New York on Friday, just days after the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the latest iteration of the travel ban.
Father of four: ‘We can’t lose hope’
Abdo Elfgeeh arrived in the United States six months before terrorists attacked on September 11, 2001. He remembers seeing the debris fill the air and remembers being stuck in the subway.
He also remembers the unity he felt with Americans.
“That was remarkable. We saw the beauty of the people of this country at that time. We were still new in the country and the way we went through it together was amazing. It left a lot of positive impressions in us,” Elfgeeh said.
Five years later, he became a citizen.
Elfgeeh said his family is used to a long-distance relationship, because his father and his great uncle before him had also immigrated to the States while the rest of their families stayed in Yemen. He knew that eventually, he would have his wife and four children join him in the United States.
But when war broke out in Yemen in 2015, they felt the urgency to come to America. Elfgeeh began the petitioning process.
The first step in the process is for United States Customs and Immigration Services to interview the citizen. Elfgeeh got an appointment for his interview more than a year after he submitted his application, but that interview was only for his wife and one of his children.
He completed a second interview in 2017 for his other children. Three months later, Customs and Immigration approved their application, at which point the file was moved to the National Visa Center.
The NVC then processed it and moved it to an embassy. Since war-torn Yemen no longer had an embassy, the family made a costly and dangerous journey to Djibouti.
After their interview in January of 2018 at the embassy in Djibouti, they were rejected.
“It was heartbreaking,” Elfgeeh said. He described his youngest daughter, age 9, who held him and wouldn’t let him go.
He said they can’t lose hope, no matter the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling in June.
“It’s worth it. It’s worth working hard to try to bring them, because we have no other choices. Either we send them back to Yemen with the war and they have no hope, or we keep trying to bring them no matter what,” Elfgeeh said.