The Newlyweds Kept Apart by Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban
A 12-hour time difference and a two-day-long trip separates Rabyaah Althaibani and her husband—and if courts rule in President Trump’s favor, the separation could be permanent.
Rabyaah Althaibani doesn’t need to imagine a future in which immigrants from Muslim-majority countries are banned from entering the United States. In the 18 months since she married her husband, Yemeni journalist Basher Othman, she’s only seen him twice.
Their ordeal, detailed in “My Family Was in Shock,” a new report by Amnesty International and CUNY’s CLEAR project, began after Althaibani and Othman married in January 2016. Due to an arduously long visa application process that has been complicated by the Trump administration’s attempts to ban citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., the couple married in Goa, India, where Othman lived for six months until the Indian government stopped renewing Yemeni visas. Afterward, he moved to Malaysia, where he has been waiting for his visa application to be processed.
Althaibani applied for her husband’s visa in March 2016 and had an interview on Nov. 18, she told The Daily Beast. After the interview was approved, Othman’s case was moved for processing to the National Visa Center.
“As I was preparing the affidavit for support and the other documents we need, Trump signed the Muslim ban in January,” Althaibani told The Daily Beast. “That put everything up in the air. Everything slowed down. This was supposed to take about 45 days, but it’s taken about three months so far.”
A 12-hour time difference and a two-day-long trip separates Althaibani and her husband, and the pair usually communicate via Skype. “It’s really difficult. When I get out of work, it’s already past bedtime there,” Althaibani said.
Althaibani and her husband are two of nearly 100,000 people around the world whose lives were turned upside-down by the Trump administration’s attempt to bar people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S. as refugees, tourists, or otherwise. Next week, a hearing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will determine whether the second iteration of the travel ban can be implemented.
Althaibani is anxiously awaiting the May 15th hearing. If the judge rules in favor of the Trump administration, her husband may not be able to enter the U.S. even with a visa.
“Imagine yourself in a long-distance relationship, you have this plan to be together within six months to a year and now you don’t know if you’ll ever be together,” she said. “It’s so hard. It’s really, really hard. And to have your government be a part of it, it’s inhumane.”
“These are real lives. These are real human beings. These are children without families, wives without their husbands,” Althaibani added. “We have the right to have our loved ones with us.”
Among other stories in the Amnesty International report, which includes testimonies from several people who were personally affected by the travel ban, is Nadia*, a 29-year-old transgender woman from Iran who was granted refugee status at the beginning of 2017. The good news came after a two-year-long application process that included the kind of extreme vetting Trump claimed didn’t exist for refugees.
“My life in Iran was like hell,” Nadia told Amnesty International, adding that she regularly suffered harassment from strangers and by her own family, including physical abuse and rape. “Really, they wanted to kill me,” she said of her family. “They didn’t accept me.”
The last thing standing between Nadia and a one-way ticket to San Francisco was a medical examination, but before she could see a doctor, Trump signed the first travel ban in January. Though the executive order was swiftly blocked by federal judges—twice—Nadia remains in limbo and outside the United States.
On paper, federal courts have prevented Trump’s travel ban from being fully implemented—but refugees and people with pending visa applications like Nadia are still feeling its effects.
The Washington Post reported last week that the Department of Homeland Security has stopped processing refugee applications, forcing people like Nadia to wait even longer than they had planned. In March, Reuters reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered stricter vetting of visa applicants from many of the countries listed in the Muslim ban executive orders.
“Really, I don’t know what to do,” Nadia told interviewers from Amnesty International for a report, released today, detailing the effects the travel bans have had on people trying to enter the U.S. “I am always crying because of this awful situation, and unfortunately there is no help.”
*Name has been changed.