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Weeks after policy reversal, immigrant families still separated at border

Nearly eight weeks have passed since President Joe Biden lifted one of the Trump administration's most controversial policies — the "Muslim ban." Still, some critics believe that Biden has not moved quickly enough to reverse all of his predecessors' policies as families continue to be separated at the border and are blocked from entering the U.S. Special correspondent James Fox has the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nearly eight weeks have passed since President Biden lifted one of his predecessor's most controversial immigration policies, the Muslim ban.

    Yet, despite that early action, many separated families still are blocked from entering the United States.

    "NewsHour" special correspondent James Fox has the story.

  • James Fox:

    Inside the arrivals terminal at Louisville International Airport, a moment once considered impossible is finally taking place. A family split in two, the mother and children building a new life in Kentucky, the father trying to escape an old life in Iran, is finally reuniting after being separated for nearly five years.

  • Farshad Amirkhani:

    We proved each other that we are belonging to each other forever, because even the separation couldn't separate us.

  • James Fox:

    Farshad Amirkhani was supposed to fly to the U.S. in 2017, only months after his wife and children made the journey themselves.

    But that all changed when then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order now known by many as the Muslim ban, a ban which went into force the very same day that Amirkhani was scheduled to enter the U.S. As a father, Amirkhani has missed out on nearly half of his children's lives, so he is humbled to be one of the first Iranian immigrants to resettle in the U.S. in years.

  • Farshad Amirkhani:

    Home sweet home?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Woman:

    This is your home.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • James Fox:

    Their reunification is, in large part, thanks to a series of executive orders signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office, one of which fulfilled a signature campaign promise.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    If I have the honor of being president, I will end the Muslim ban on day one. And we're going to restore American leadership around the world, starting by putting our democratic values and our diplomacy at the center of our foreign policy again.

  • James Fox:

    Biden also instructed his State Department to resume visa processing, particularly for those who had already been interviewed by a consular officer, like Amirkhani.

    Still, even with many of the Trump era travel bans out of the way, some critics believe that Biden has not moved quickly enough to reverse all of his predecessor's policies. Specifically, two travel ban extensions which had halted all legal immigration during the pandemic, were not lifted by the president until the end of February, five weeks after his inauguration.

    Now, for most visa applicants, that five-week delay was just another hurdle in what is already a very long line of obstacles. But for thousands of others who had been granted temporary visas to enter the U.S. in 2020 and 2021, a delay like this is potentially disastrous, because, while many may have been approved to come to the U.S. before those additional bans were put in place, the expiration date on their visas has not changed, meaning their travel window, which was originally about 10 months, has been reduced to a matter of weeks.

    What's more, a backlog in applications, combined with the pandemic, means some of those promised visas are now beginning to expire before they can even be delivered by the State Department.

  • Curtis Morrison:

    What we're facing is, all of their immigration paths end. And when I say end, I mean end.

  • James Fox:

    Curtis Morrison is an immigration attorney who has been suing the Biden administration to lift the immigration bans extended by President Trump in his final weeks in office.

    His lawsuits, four in total, are still being argued in virtual court on behalf of more than 2,000 plaintiffs who are running out of time to get into the country before their long-awaited visas expire, that is, unless Congress or the courts intervene.

  • Curtis Morrison:

    So, these people were extremely lucky to be selected once. The idea that they could be selected another time is a very remote possibility.

    So, basically, they have been selected, they have gone through the process, they have done everything right. They have made all these arrangements. They went to hotels, sometimes third countries, where they were ready to enter the U.S. as soon as the proclamation was over. And then Trump extended it, and Biden let it stay.

  • James Fox:

    Ever since his first daughter was born in 2019, Pouria Mojabi, an Iranian-born tech entrepreneur in Oakland, has been working with Curtis Morrison to bring his parents to the U.S. to help him and his wife raise their children.

    Even though he is an American citizen, his parents' hopes of watching their grandchildren grow have been made impossible by the Muslim ban.

  • Pouria Mojabi:

    We just wanted to see my parents, and we fought every single day. I mean, nothing worked. This past three, four years, I'm — I did — I mean, I personally did a lot of protesting.

    I am part of two, three different lawsuits, spent a lot of money for legal fees and lawyers. Fought with every possible thing we could. I mean, nothing worked.

  • James Fox:

    Nor is anything expected to work, at least soon, because, as of today, U.S. consular officers have not even scheduled an interview with his parents, an essential step towards being issued a visa.

    Responding to questions on how they were addressing the backlog, the State Department told the "NewsHour": "We are working daily to find ways to increase the number of immigrant visa appointments, despite COVID-19."

    Like many other separated families, that's an assurance which, according to the Mojabis, is not enough to recover the time that has been lost.

  • Mosadegh Mojabi:

    We wish to be able to see them every day, to see them when they are born, to see them when they grow up.

    And we have been deprived of this. We can talk to them by the Internet, but we are not sure that they know us at all, if they love us at all. And that is suffering.

  • James Fox:

    Suffering, Curtis Morrison believes, which is unlikely to end with a new president.

  • Curtis Morrison:

    I do think that the Biden administration will use the pandemic as an excuse not to follow through with promises, specifically about immigration especially, because, even if they — he does undo Trump's policy, it's not going to solve the problems that Trump created. That is going to take some very creative solutions and a big commitment, ambitious commitment, and I don't think that the will is there.

  • James Fox:

    Despite the families who long for it to be.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm James Fox.

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