By Mana Kharrazi
25 Apr 2018
It took nearly dying from cancer for Maziar Hashemi to see the brother who may be his best hope of survival.
For Hashemi, an American citizen suffering from blood cancer, a bone marrow transplant from his brother, Kamiar Hashemi, an Iranian citizen and perfect match, may save his life. However, after months of waiting and applying in person at the US embassy in Armenia, Kamiar’s application was initially denied on the state department website. Even Kamiar’s bone marrow cells couldn’t cross the border, thwarted by US sanctions on Iranian exports when Be the Match, a US-based non-profit organization, hoped to facilitate delivery of the cells to the US.
Maziar faced the real likelihood that his only chance of recovery would fail to overcome the hurdles imposed by the Trump administration’s third and latest travel ban.
The Muslim ban harms American families and puts lives at risk; Maziar’s is just one case. Thousands were torn away from their families and await the results of a Supreme Court hearing on the administration’s ban scheduled for Wednesday. Americans separated from their spouses, siblings, parents, and children face little hope of being reunited. As executive director of Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB), an organization that empowers young Iranian Americans, and as a citizen whose family sought refuge in this country, I will be speaking out on the issue, including outside the supreme court hearing.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of Maziar’s immigration attorney, Mahsa Khanbabai, and after garnering media coverage and the support of his congressman, Kamiar was finally granted a US visa on 29 March.
But the Hashemi family’s story of success is rare. While the state department reports that 375 waivers have been approved since the ban on entry for individuals from eight countries, including Iran, an exclusive report by Reuters suggests that the number of waivers granted was actually two, as of 15 February.
Waivers are eligible to anyone who would face “undue hardship” from being denied entry, whose entry “would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety”, and who “would be in the national interest”. Unfortunately, the process by which waivers are reviewed and granted is vague.
Jonathan Smith, legal director of Muslim Advocates, explains: “While this data is staggering, it unfortunately affirms what we’ve known: the waivers process is a farce that does not provide anyone with a meaningful path to entering the United States … It’s clear that these waivers, purported to be the only way for anyone from the banned countries to enter the United States, are just a sham meant to trick the American people.”
IAAB was the main plaintiff in the first challenge to Muslim ban 3.0, citing the negative impact on our youth, many of whom are second or third generation Iranian Americans. In our legal challenge, IAAB v Trump, we shared stories of harassment, bullying and mistreatment targeting our students across the country. We are only one plaintiff in the suit: the rest are anonymous Americans fearing retaliation for suing for the right to be reunited with their fiances, siblings and other loved ones.
Hundreds of families in the US face the same struggle of separation as our plaintiffs. The ban has already cost many to lose their right to an education, jobs, homes and ruined planned reunions for holidays and milestones.
The Hashemi family’s rare success story highlights what many of us already know: we are fighting for our humanity in America long after we overcame the hurdles to earn citizenship. It should not require one of us nearly dying for our rights to be protected as Americans.
Certainly, proponents of the travel ban argue that it protects Americans and is critical to our national security. However, more than 130 former defense and foreign policy experts declare the opposite in a signed letter, saying the ban does “weaken US national security and undermine US global leadership”. Signatories, including veterans from multiple former administrations, say that “America’s much admired compassion and openness are sources not of weakness but strength. These qualities accord with the ideals on which our nation was founded, and on which our greatness rests”.
In reality, the ban is detrimental to a large subset of Americans with no real benefit for the rest of the country. Instead, many of us find ourselves at odds with an administration as it attempts to deny our rights as Americans and refuses any responsibility for us as citizens.
And in our current climate, the ban stands as a legal justification for the hatred and violence threatening us. It is important that all Americans pay attention to the April supreme court arguments and subsequent ruling that could, as in Maziar’s case, mean life or death.
Mana Kharrazi is executive director of Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) and a Ford Public Voices fellow of The OpEd Project