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Iranian Immigrants Place Hopes In Biden To Reverse Muslim Travel Ban

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Joe Biden says he is reversing the barriers to immigration the Trump administration imposed on several majority-Muslim countries, and the White House is reviewing just how to undo those complex restrictions. Among those most often rejected for visas in the last three years are Iranians, according to State Department figures. That has disrupted life for them and, in some cases, relatives already in the U.S. NPR's Peter Kenyon has this report.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: One impact of the Trump travel ban was to divide families. Eli, a 34-year-old Iranian with a green card, lives in Los Angeles. Like all the Iranians interviewed for this story, she asked that her family name not be used for fear of retaliation if she returns to Iran. Eli says of all the issues she faced moving to the U.S., the travel ban was the worst.

ELI: The travel ban - actually, the Muslim ban, I don't know - or Trump ban, anything you name it - affect us very widely, and it has direct effect in our life.

KENYON: In the spring of 2018, Eli says she applied for a visa for her husband so he could join her in the U.S. They filled out the forms, paid the fees and waited - and waited. A backlog of cases and the pandemic were contributing factors, but she says that didn't make it any easier.

ELI: We are waiting for his interview, like, almost one year. And it's really hard time for us.

KENYON: I heard a similar story from Mahdis, who's also separated from her husband. She herself was born in Iowa and raised in America, but she met her Iranian husband while visiting relatives in Iran. Mahdis makes a living in the U.S. teaching English as a second language. She says her students can't believe it when they hear their teacher can't be with her husband, who's stuck in Iran.

MAHDIS: We thought that after President Biden is elected, then everything is going to be OK. But unfortunately, it seems not. I voted for him because he said that he's going to be different from the previous president, but he's not.

KENYON: What's frustrating, she says, is there have been no requests for additional information and no response when she tries to find out what the holdup is.

MAHDIS: What do you guys need to check? Like, you've been checking his background check for three years. And they know. They know everything.

KENYON: One thing they know is that Mahdis's husband did his compulsory military service in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps. And even though she says his service consisted of playing in the military band, she worries that it's counting against him.

Even people exempt from the travel ban, like 22-year-old student Marjan, felt its effects. Marjan already had a student visa when the travel ban took effect and was able to pursue her PhD in New York. But then she attended a workshop in India in 2019. And when she tried to return to New York, she was given a new form to fill out, one she hadn't seen before.

MARJAN: The form was an extreme vetting form, which I did fill out. I sent it to embassy. But then that was actually part of the thing that I should have been exempt from.

KENYON: With her application stuck in limbo, Marjan missed an entire school year. It wasn't until New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney's office got involved that Marjan eventually made it back to New York. She says the experience left her shaken, and she's not surprised some people just give up.

MARJAN: I mean, a lot of people went through arbitrary processes like this, and some people actually - they lose hope, and they go back, and they do not apply again because it is really traumatic.

KENYON: She still hopes things will get better. She needs to renew her visa to stay in the U.S. But she's learning to live with uncertainty as the Biden administration undertakes a large-scale review of the immigration measures imposed by Trump. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly say that Marjan is 22 years old. In fact, she's 34.]

(SOUNDBITE OF DANNY KEANE'S "FLIGHT 19 (IN ISOLATION)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 16, 2021 at 12:00 AM EST
In this report, we incorrectly say that Marjan is 22 years old. In fact, she's 34.
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