The Mercury News

Biden’s lifting of Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ was only partial

- By Brittney Rezaei

Although President Joe Biden formally rescinded the “Muslim ban” on Jan. 20, the day he took office, some of the ban’s discrimina­tory effects continue.

The Trump-era policy devastated families and individual­s who had hoped to immigrate to the United States to be reunited with family, have better opportunit­ies, or escape war and political instabilit­y. Dismantlin­g this ban and the policy shifts it spurred will require concerted effort from the Biden administra­tion.

The ban initially prohibited travel from seven Muslim-majority countries to the United States and was later expanded to include six additional African countries. Despite lawsuits from civil rights groups opposing the ban, the Supreme Court upheld it in 2018.

Its emotional toll was devastatin­g, separating thousands of families — many of whom are still left in limbo. After securing a visa, relocating to the United States, and establishi­ng their bearings for a few months, many people had planned for their family to join them eventually in the United States. Sadly, that hope to be reunited was destroyed when the ban was enacted.

The ban also impacted the diversity visa program, which was establishe­d through the Immigratio­n Act of 1990 to help people who had fewer opportunit­ies to enter the United States immigratio­n process.

The program grants up to 50,000 visas annually to people from countries that have low levels of representa­tion in the United States. This has benefited many immigrants from Africa and Asia. Under the ban, however, applicants from banned countries who had “won” in the program’s lottery system became ineligible to obtain visas.

In March, the State Department issued a proposal for other individual­s whose visas had been denied under the ban. Yet, the announceme­nt notably excluded diversity visa recipients from eligibilit­y for entry.

Since the Immigratio­n Act stipulates that diversity lottery winners obtain their visas within the fiscal year they were selected, applicants who were awarded slots during the ban are now ineligible for visas and would likely have to reenter the lottery.

Many of them were relying on this once-in-a-lifetime visa to secure better opportunit­ies and help their families. Many have spent inordinate amounts of money traveling to embassies and securing proper documentat­ion, only to be denied under the ban the entry they had won through the lottery.

The Biden administra­tion could remedy this situation. It could grant denied lottery winners humanitari­an parole, which provides temporary entry for people facing an urgent humanitari­an situation who would otherwise be inadmissib­le to the United States.

While this would just provide momentary protection and does not confer legal immigratio­n status to the individual, it could create a path to securing immigratio­n. The administra­tion could then work with Congress on legislatio­n that would allow people on humanitari­an parole to apply for legal residency status.

In a country that prides itself on being a “nation of immigrants,” it is imperative that the Biden administra­tion deliver justice to these lottery winners — that it thoroughly dismantle this discrimina­tory immigratio­n policy and end its devastatin­g, far-reaching impacts.

Brittney Rezaei is the managing attorney and Muslim ban attorney at the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

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