Families separated by a ban on legal immigration enacted by former President Donald Trump last year rejoiced Wednesday after President Joe Biden signed a proclamation revoking the policy—which he said "harms the United States"—while urging his administration to act in earnest to reduce the massive backlog of visa applicants.
"My husband and I are looking forward to a better life, to spending our remaining years with our children and grandchildren."
Last April, former President Donald Trump issued an order temporarily barring the provision of new green cards on the dubious grounds that recipients "present risk to the U.S. labor market during the economic recovery following the Covid-19 outbreak." Instead of lifting the ban at the end of 2020 as originally scheduled, Trump extended it through March 31, 2021.
On the day of its enactment last year, Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, blasted the ban, tweeting that "when you're a xenophobe, bans on migration are the only tired, failed, hateful solution you can think of."
Biden's revocation acknowledged that immigrants comprise a significant percentage of the U.S. workforce in numerous industries that are particularly important during the pandemic, from healthcare to agriculture.
An important step to protect legal immigration, but the job isn’t finished until the ban on nonimmigrants is rescinded too. https://t.co/kwM36PxgYH
— Shev Dalal-Dheini (@ShevDD) February 25, 2021
Trump's ban, said Biden, "does not advance the interests" of the country. "To the contrary," he added, " it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world. And it harms individuals who were selected to receive the opportunity to apply for, and those who have likewise received, immigrant visas through the Fiscal Year 2020 Diversity Visa Lottery."
Sonali Kolhatkar, a well-known Southern California-based broadcast journalist and producer, anxiously awaited the day her Indian parents would receive their green cards and come live in the house built for them adjacent to hers. They were well into what Kolhatkar described as the "long and arduous" visa sponsorship process when Trump's ban was announced.
Kolhatkar's mother Ellen, who lives with her husband in Dubai, told Common Dreams that "all our future plans for the autumn years of life in America" were "in danger of coming to naught."
Sonali said her family saw the first bright rays of hope when Biden defeated Trump last November.
"The day he was declared the president my entire family—every branch of it from all different countries—were rejoicing for the simple reason that for us, this represented the turning point for us to be together," Kolhatkar told Common Dreams. "We could hope that my parents—who are both in their 70s—could finally come here."
"We fully expected Biden, when he signed all those immigration-related excecutive orders on day one, would overturn [the green card ban] as part of that," she added. "Democrats have never gone after legal forms of immigration. Even Republicans haven't gone after family sponsorship."
First, the sheer scale of the Trump ban: It effectively shut down the Diversity Visa program, & blocked US citizens & permanent residents from bringing close family members here.@chooseboundless estimated 358,000 people would be blocked each year—1/3 of the annual total.
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— Doug Rand (@doug_rand) February 25, 2021
The human toll has been awful.
“I don’t even take a nap,” said a professional caregiver with 2 young children, whose husband has been stuck abroad. “My life is falling apart. My only hope is if my husband can come.”
— Doug Rand (@doug_rand) February 25, 2021
Yet the ban remained while the new administration focused on ending family separation and reuniting children seized from their parents—policies Kolhatkar called "the worst and cruelest" of the Trump era. It was finally lifted, she said, "because of the pressure from hundreds of thousands of people directly impacted."
"This is the first hurdle cleared and it's a huge relief," she told Common Dreams. "I'm taking a day to celebrate. After that we have to demand Biden pour more resources into the National Visa Center so they can clear the massive backlog that has piled up. If that isn't done I could still be looking at years before I am reunited with my parents."
Indeed, the new administration must overcome staff shortages, budgetary constraints, and hiring limitations—all set against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic—if it is to make a serious dent in a backlog of more than 380,000 immigration visa applicants awaiting consular interviews as of the end of 2020.
Despite the painful delays caused by the Trump administration's nativist policies, families like Kolhatkar's are feeling one step closer to the day when they will be reunited.
"My husband and I are looking forward to a better life, to spending our remaining years with our children and grandchildren," said Ellen Kolhatkar.