When we released our first short documentary about two married couples separated by President Trump’s travel ban, we asked viewers to let us know whether they had similar stories. Nearly 800 letters of heartbreak poured in. Americans from across the country, and the world, said they were struggling to keep their families intact because of the executive order blocking immigration from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen — countries Trump says are security threats.
Immigration from the majority-Muslim countries listed in the ban has plummeted, and the State Department says fewer than 3,000 waivers were granted between Jan. 31 and Dec. 8, 2017, when the policy went into full effect. These waivers were a key part of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the travel ban. The Trump administration said it would make exceptions for people experiencing undue hardship and who are, essentially, not terrorists. But that waiver system isn’t working out too well for most visa applicants who are stuck in indefinite bureaucratic limbo.
Nine days after we published our story, U.S. officials notified one of the Iranian subjects in our video that he qualified for a waiver. After filming his reunion with his wife in Michigan, we received even more texts, emails and videos from people hoping to get media coverage. We can’t publish them all, but this is a sampling of the hardship Americans and their foreign-born loved ones say they are experiencing because of the travel ban.
Deborah Vosseteig, West Fargo, N.D.
Our youngest daughter, Sarah, has been living in Turkey for five years homeschooling an American family. During this time, she met and married a Christian Iranian refugee living in Turkey. He fled Iran with his mother because of religious persecution. He and his mother are registered refugees with the United Nations and have been given the U.S. as their new placement country. However, they have not seen movement in their processes since the travel ban two years ago.
They have been waiting desperately to be allowed in the U.S. to start a life of security and freedom. They do not know when or even if that will ever happen.
Our other daughter, Jenna, lives in North Dakota and is engaged to the brother of Sarah’s husband. Her fiance lives in Norway and has been a Norwegian citizen for about 14 years. Unfortunately, he was born in Iran, one of the countries named in the ban. He has been waiting for 2½ years for a visitor’s visa to the U.S. and is consistently told it’s in administrative processing.
They have also applied for a fiance visa, but that also is in administrative processing. They do not know when he will be allowed in the U.S. and when they will be allowed to marry and begin their lives together.
So yes, our entire family has been affected tremendously by President Trump’s travel ban, and we pray something can be done to overturn this decision.
Majid Jamshid Zadeh, Houston
My name is Majid Jamshid Zadeh. I’m from Iran and living in Houston. I have a master’s degree and have been working as an electronic engineer for two years in one of the best industrial companies in Houston.
I have been married for 10 years. My wife’s name is Shabnam Taleb, and she lives in Iran now. She is a licensed medical doctor and is one of the best doctors in her field in Iran.
I applied for her to join me in the United States on Jan. 4, 2017, and after checking all our documents and background, she was approved by the National Visa Center on June 20, 2017, with an alien number and all legal documents. They sent her to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on Oct. 18, 2017, then put her case under administrative processing, which was more than 17 months ago.
This separation is hard for us. For more than 42 months, we have not seen each other. I tried to contact my congressmen and senators to help me. I sent several inquiries to the embassy for an update, and they always answer me: “Your case is under Administrative Processing.” I sent three letters to President Trump, too, but nothing happened.
My wife is alone awaiting for administrative processing to finish so she can join me, and I am alone here waiting for her. We are legal immigrants, educated people whom the president promised to help come to U.S., but after the travel ban, they seem to have stopped processing applications. What is our fault? For what reason do we have this hardship? We are losing our chance to make a family here due to age and stress.
Mehrshad Alexander Mehrdad, Irvine, Calif.
My name is Mehrshad Alexander Mehrdad. I’m a U.S. citizen born on Oct. 2, 1990, residing in Irvine, Calif. I have been awaiting the arrival of my fiancee, Melika Nazar, since March 2016. At that time, I filed a petition for a fiancee visa. Melika’s acceptance arrived on April 2016. In early September 2016, my immediate family and I traveled to Iran for a short two weeks, and with a beautiful ceremony, we announced our engagement to both of our families.
On Nov. 1, 2016, Melika successfully completed her visa interview. However, Melika’s fiancee visa status continues to remain unchanged from “administrative processing” even after almost two years from her visa interview. In October 2017, out of desperation and at the risk of losing my job, I made another trip to see my loved one. Since my departure, she has been ill and struggles with depression. I am also emotionally and financially exhausted. With recent regulations and changes in Iran, I was unable to revisit; therefore, we planned another trip to Thailand to meet each other in June 2018, again putting my vocation at risk in order to see my significant other.
After our trip, we were separated again, and Melika’s symptoms have gradually worsened. In the past year, she has had multiple hospital admissions. She has also been treated several times this year for major anxiety disorder, severe dehydration and peptic ulcer disease. I have been trying every available option to find out about her visa status that remains in administrative processing.
Laura Kakish, Azusa, Calif.
I am a U.S.-born citizen, and my husband is of Syrian descent. (He was born in Saudi Arabia and carries a Syrian passport but has only visited Syria as a kid once or twice. Saudi Arabia does not confer automatic birthright citizenship.) He previously lived in the U.S. for 16 years on a student visa and left after completing his education.
We were married in Canada in 2010 and have been dealing with the immigration process since then. He is currently in Saudi Arabia under a visitor’s visa, and we have not seen each other since 2012. We have never lived with each other or had the chance to experience married life. My husband has worked, paid taxes and purchased a home in the U.S., but he is not welcomed here. He finally got approved through the strenuous immigration process,only 10 days before the travel ban took effect. Now we are waiting again under the waiver process for more than a year after being approved by the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh.
This travel ban is tearing our souls apart. Our lives have been on hold for close to nine years, and we are not getting any younger. We want to have kids, but it may not be possible, and the government is the reason. I want my life back. I want to live like a human.
Payam Moein, Memphis
I am currently a J-1 visa physician, originally from Iran, about to finish my residency in neurology. I will be furthering my education by completing a two-year epilepsy and neurophysiology fellowship.
I have not been able to see my family for six years, although I entered the country legally. I have given up a lot since coming to the United States. I was recently married, and my parents were unable to attend the wedding due to President Trump’s travel ban. My wife has become pregnant, and I now have to face the reality that my parents may never get to meet their grandchild or my wife.
My father is 76 and was recently diagnosed with cancer. It pains me very much thinking of worst-case scenarios. My parents are up for a green card interview, and if the United States would give my parents’ application a chance, obviously they would be willing to comply with a full investigation. They would undoubtedly determine my parents are not a threat. I cannot leave the country as I am on a single J-1 visa, and the chance of being denied after leaving the U.S. is very high because of my country of origin (Iran).
I cannot visit my sick father. I often think of leaving this country and moving to Canada despite the tremendous job openings because of the harsh law of the travel ban. Essentially, Trump is not only hurting Iranian citizens; he is also hurting U.S. citizens who are in need of neurologists. This leads to longer wait times for patients. Time spent waiting can be life-threatening.
Mohammadhossein Moshkelgosha, Shiraz, Iran
I am a 32-year-old Iranian doctor who passed the United States Medical Licensing Examination. My wife, Mahsa, is a school psychologist who works with children with mental disabilities and emotional issues. She has been a legal permanent resident of the United States since 2013. She had applied for my visa after our marriage in 2015. Everything went well, and our application had been processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the National Visa Center. In 2017, when I had my interview at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the officer told me that “your documents are perfect and you will receive your visa by next two to three months.” Twenty months have passed, and nothing has happened.
We are both devastated by the travel ban and feel depressed after the Supreme Court’s final decision. My wife’s birthday was on Feb. 13, and we are still separated. We have tried everything but nothing has worked yet. Even the office of then-Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.) contacted the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, but they answered that they are not allowed to take further actions. Interestingly, the embassy put our email address on a spam list so we have not been able to contact them anymore.
This is the sad story of many families all around the world who have been separated by the travel ban rooted in racism and xenophobia.