Afghan girls robotics team arrives in US just in time
WASHINGTON: Twice rejected for US visas, an all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan arrived in Washington early Saturday after an extraordinary, last-minute intervention by President Donald Trump. The six-girl team and their chaperone completed their journey just after midnight from their hometown of Herat, Afghanistan, to enter their ball-sorting robot in the three-day high school competition starting Sunday in the US capital.
Awaiting them at the gate at Washington Dulles International Airport were a In the short time since their visa dilemma drew global attention, the girls’ case has become a flashpoint in the debate about Trump’s efforts to tighten entrance to the US, including from many majority-Muslim countries. Afghanistan isn’t included in Trump’s temporary travel ban, but critics have said the ban is emblematic of a broader effort to put a chill on Muslims entering the US. The girls’ story has also renewed the focus on the longer-term US plans for aiding Afghanistan’s future, as Trump’s administration prepares a new military strategy that will include sending more troops to the country where the US has been fighting since 2001.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday the strategy was moving forward but “not finalized yet.” Trump’s personal intervention earlier in the week using a rare “parole” mechanism to sidestep the visa system ended a dramatic saga in which the team twice traveled from their home in western Afghanistan through largely Taliban-controlled territory to Kabul, where their visa applications were denied twice. The US won’t say why the girls were rejected for visas, citing confidentiality.
But Mohib said that based on discussions with US officials, it appears the girls were rebuffed due to concerns they would not return to Afghanistan. It’s a fate that has beset many Afghans seeking entry to the US in recent years as continuing violence and economic challenges lead many to seek asylum in America, or to travel through the US to Canada to try to resettle there. As their case gained attention, Trump intervened by asking National Security Council officials to find a way for them to travel, officials said.
Ultimately the State Department, which adjudicates visa applications, asked the Homeland Security Department to let them in on “parole,” a temporary status used only in exceptional circumstances to let in someone who is otherwise ineligible to enter the country.
The US granted parole after determining that it constituted a “significant public benefit.” Ambassador Alice Wells, the acting US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, downplayed concerns that the girls might use the parole to stay in the US or go to Canada.
As she drove to the airport to greet the girls, she said by phone that they were proud to represent Afghanistan and “proud to return to be role models to others around them.” —AP
KABUL: Members of a female robotics team from Herat province, leave Kabul to the US from Kabul Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan.—AP