Visa Winners Out of Luck While Travel Ban Awaits High Court Fate

WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge declined Friday to overstep President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban and allow two families from Yemen and two from Iran who won visa lotteries into the U.S.

The Almaqrami and Alsakkaf families from Yemen and the Golsefid and Zadeh families from Iran were selected as lottery winners in the diversity visa program established under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The four families submitted their visa applications and completed their consular interviews as required by the program, but have not been granted entry into the United States.

They were told they were ineligible for visas unless they could demonstrate a bona fide relationship with the U.S., a requirement under State Department guidelines issued in June for President Trump’s revised travel ban targeting six predominantly Muslim countries.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided this summer to allow parts of the revised ban to proceed pending a resolution of litigation over the ban during the high court’s next session.

In a 17-page opinion released Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan left the controversial restrictions in place until the Supreme Court rules on the underlying executive order issued in March by President Trump.

“The court declines to alter the status quo and grant these specific requests for injunctive and mandamus relief while the legality of the executive order is currently before the Supreme Court,” she wrote.

The executive order imposed a 90-day suspension on entry into the United States for nationals of six countries—Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

It was challenged on constitutional and statutory grounds in several different courts, and by the end of March, two injunctions prohibited enforcement of the travel ban.

In June, the Supreme Court granted the government’s petition for certiorari, and granted in part its motions to stay the preliminary injunctions, pending resolution of the merits.

The diversity program was set up by Congress to permit the State Department to issue up to 50,000 visas to individuals from specified countries. Those wishing to obtain a visa through the diversity visa program must enter the lottery by filing a petition. The State Department then randomly selects lottery applicants to receive the visas.

Selectees may then submit an application and complete an interview with State Department consular officers. Provided that an applicant is statutorily eligible and there is a visa number available for them, and that processing is complete by the end of the fiscal year, federal law directs the State Department to issue the visas, allowing the applicant and their immediate family to live and work in the United States and become lawful permanent residents.

The four families who sued over the ban asked the federal court in Washington, D.C. to issue an order enjoining the State Department from implementing its new guidelines and an order requiring consular officers to process their applications pursuant to the statute, but the court declined their request.

However, Judge Chutkan ordered the State Department to save any unused visa slots for the four families, citing the Sept. 30 deadline to receive the visas.

“The court is merely ensuring that plaintiffs will not be deprived of a remedy should the Supreme Court rule in their favor,” she wrote. “Absent relief from this court, plaintiffs are foreclosed from receiving visas in [Fiscal Year] 2017 due to the impending statutory deadline.”

Chutkan was nominated to the bench by former President Barack Obama in late 2013, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a 95-0 vote the following June.

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