At the same time, the sad plight of Abdullah Hassan, a 2-year-old Yemeni-American boy on life support in a California hospital, garnered public attention. Both Abdullah and his father, Ali Hassan, are U.S. citizens, but his mother, Shaima Swileh, is a Yemeni citizen living in Egypt. Trump’s travel ban, blocking nationals from several Muslim-majority nations from visiting the United States, includes Yemen, a country currently ravaged by war and hunger. For months, Swileh had been waiting for a waiver from the ban in order to see her dying son, who suffers from a rare genetic brain condition, but to no avail.
“My son, Abdullah, needs his mother,” Ali Hassan said at a news conference Monday. “My wife is calling me every day wanting to kiss and hold her son for the last time.” In a separate interview, he added: “All she wishes is to hold his hand for the last time. If I could take him off the ventilator and to the airplane, I would take him to her. I would let her see him. But he won’t make it.”
Neither of these tragic stories should be viewed in isolation. Trump has made his hardline stance on migrants a central theme of his presidency, demonizing whole populations as a menace to America and fearmongering over foreign arrivals to stir up his nativist base. While Swileh obtained a waiver to apply for a visa, numerous other Yemenis with ties to the United States remain in limbo. And Jakelin’s hideous death occurred at a time when the Trump administration is trying to make the process of applying for asylum more difficult, prompting migrants and smugglers to seek more remote — and hazardous — points of crossing.
“What people are doing is they are going further and further out and that is dangerous," Ruben Garcia, director of a shelter for migrants in El Paso, Texas, told the Guardian. "It is endangering the lives and welfare of families and obviously of children and that is very, very disconcerting.”
As my colleague Nick Miroff reports, the Trump administration is keen on “disincentivizing” the illegal crossings made by the girl and her father at a time when it seems a record number of Central American families have been arrested along the U.S.-Mexico border. Hundreds of children forcibly separated from their parents by U.S. officials remain apart as Christmas approaches.
In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, senior Democratic lawmakers urged the agency to “review policies and practices that may result in increased migration through particularly harsh terrain.” A delegation of Democrats with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus went to tour the places where the girl entered the United States and eventually perished and interview the Border Patrol agents who were with her when she became critically ill.
“The administration could reduce the danger of the crossing by facilitating legal entry into the U.S. for asylum seekers,” explained Vox’s Dara Lind. “In particular, it could end its ‘metering’ policy in which asylum seekers are turned away from high-traffic ports of entry for days or weeks (or longer); U.S. officials argue that they would need to invest a lot of money in port capacity to have enough room, but that’s a thing that could be done.”
For the administration, its dogged stance on the border is as much a matter of ideology as policy. Trump and his lieutenants have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to stick to their nationalist guns, even at the expense of pragmatic governance. On Sunday, for example, Trump adviser Stephen Miller declared that the White House’s insistence on securing billions of dollars in additional funding for its border wall would determine whether “the United States remains a sovereign country.” (On Tuesday, the White House meekly retreated from its threat to shut down the government over this funding.)
"We have always said this travel ban is a betrayal of America’s most fundamental values,” Neal Katyal, a lawyer who has challenged the ban in court, told Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank. "The administration claimed its waiver process was real, and stories like this show that it was a sham, is a sham and will continue to be a sham.”
A recent New York Times article estimates there are hundreds of Yemeni-Americans separated from spouses or children who are non-U.S. citizens. The uncertainty and stress of the situation is, for some, too much to bear.
“In July, one Yemeni-American man committed suicide in Louisiana after succumbing to the economic strain of supporting his wife and five children after they were denied visas in Djibouti — located across the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa — where rent can be six times as much as in Yemen,” noted the Times.
Or consider the plight of Ahmed Abdulwahab, whose wife had a visa approved that was then revoked once the Trump administration’s ban went into effect. On Monday, the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy organization, filed a federal lawsuit against Trump based on their case and those of two other Yemeni-Americans whose families are waiting indefinitely for visas in Djibouti. The suit argues that the ordeal of these seeking waivers underscores the ban’s “discriminatory animus” and undercuts the defense of the measures made by the Supreme Court.
For Abdulwahab, this is all secondary to his family’s pain. “I don’t know what else to do,” he told the Times, reflecting on how his wife was caught between a war zone and a nation that has closed its doors to her. “I can’t bring her here, I can’t bring her back to Yemen. I just keep hoping that one day it will be over and we will be together.”