Separated for 800 Days, Yemeni Family Sues Trump

WASHINGTON (CN) – A couple trying to whisk their children out of war-torn Yemen have joined the stream of litigation over President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries.

Though the so-called travel ban has been on hold since March 16 thanks to a federal judge in Hawaii, the anonymous couple now suing Trump in Washington say that relaxation of the restraining order will have direct consequences on their family.

Yemen is one of six countries whose residents would have faced a 90-day hold on U.S. visa admissions under Trump’s revised ban. The other countries are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

“If they do it, we want the protection of an injunction from this court,” the couple’s attorney Charles Blanchard said in a phone interview.

Blanchard’s clients and their five children sought U.S. asylum in 2015 when civil war broke out in Yemen. Because of financial constraints, the couple came here with visas for three of the children but left two of theirs sons, ages 10 and 12, in Yemen with their grandmother.

The war in Yemen has caused more than 10,000 civilian deaths, and four times as many civilian injuries.  While they await consular interviews, the next step in the asylum application process, the boys have since fled to Djibouti with their grandmother.

But Blanchard, an attorney with the firm Arnold & Porter, notes that the State Department has not scheduled interviews for them yet, and that the cost of living in Djibouti will force the boys to return to Yemen.

“Our sense is that the consular officials in these affected countries have been struggling with how to address these cases in light of both the travel bans, and with the court order,” Blanchard said. “But the fact is, visas aren’t being processed, for whatever reason.”

Blanchard noted that his clients are the first to tackle a provision of Trump’s revised immigration ban called Section 4, which requires heightened screening requirements for Iraqi visa applicants.

Similar enhanced screening requirements for the case-by-case waiver provision of the new immigration ban impose additional hurdles to securing visas for the two boys. 

That includes providing “additional information and representations to consular officials” and “additional levels of review” for the applications. 

“This additional scrutiny further complicates and delays the Does’ reunification with their children,” the March 24 complaint says. 

In addition to Trump, the lawsuit names as defendants Homeland Security chief John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with their respective agencies. 

The Yemeni couple filed the lawsuit in conjunction with the Universal Muslim Association of America, the largest Shiite organization in the United States.

That group says Trump’s executive orders on immigration have complicated its efforts to bring speakers to the U.S. for its annual convention.

“This year, UMAA has been unable to advertise its event to include Iranian and Iraqi speakers because of the Executive Orders,” the group says, abbreviating the Universal Muslim Association of America. 

Blanchard noted that the group’s efforts to bring speakers into the United States is unique to this particular challenge of the immigration ban.

Just as it does not help immigrants themselves, according to the complaint, a provision in the revised travel ban for case-by-case waivers does not alleviate that problem.

“Because it applies to all Iranian nationals and because there is no guarantee that any particular applicant will be granted a waiver, UMAA cannot determine which speakers to invite to its convention and other events because it does not know which speakers would be granted waivers,” the complaint states (emphasis original). 

Even the court blocks against Trump’s first travel ban failed to help a scheduled speaker obtain a visa, Blanchard said. “They don’t know why,” he added.

The complaint carefully recounts statements that Trump made on the campaign trail ahead of his election, including “calling for a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,’ and saying that he thinks ‘Islam hates us.'”

Blanchard’s clients say they, and all other Muslims in America, are injured by the new travel ban’s “implicit condemnation of Islam.” 

“The Does’ religion is important to them, and they are pained by President Trump’s denouncements of the Islamic faith and of Muslims generally,” the complaint states. 

“The Does fear that they will face increased prejudice and hate as a result of the Replacement Executive Order.” 

The Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and State declined to comment on the pending litigation. The White House has not returned an email seeking comment.

Blanchard’s clients have asked the court to require the consular officials handling their sons’ visa applications to schedule their interviews within 10 days and adjudicate their petitions within a week. The couple have not seen their sons in more than 800 days. 

Additionally, the lawsuit asks the court for a nationwide injunction that would bar implementation of Sections 2 and 4 of the new immigration executive order, and to rescind and replace guidance to federal agencies on how to comply with any such an order.

The complaint additionally asks the court to reissue cancelled visas, and file monthly reports on the number of visas granted and denied to nationals of Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Iraq – with detailed explanations of any denials. 

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