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Rights Groups Say Biden's Denial of Visas to Victims of Muslim Ban Has 'Cemented Trump's Legacy of Harm'

"To those families whose dreams were crushed by the Muslim Ban over the past four years, the Biden administration has sent a clear message: sorry, start over and pay us again."

A Muslim woman participates in an English as a second language class at the Rohingya Cultural Center in Chicago on February 10, 2020. (Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

A Muslim woman participates in an English as a second language class at the Rohingya Cultural Center in Chicago on February 10, 2020. (Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden rescinded his predecessor's so-called "Muslim Ban," but his administration announced this week that thousands of "diversity visa" applicants who were denied entry to the U.S. by former President Donald Trump are not entitled to new visas, provoking outrage among progressives who say the White House is upholding the discriminatory effects of policies that excluded travelers from more than a dozen majority-Muslim nations. 

"This decision threatens to forever prevent thousands of Black and Brown immigrants who meet all of the legal requirements to immigrate to the United States from doing so, perpetuating the effects of the discriminatory ban."
—Manar Waheed, ACLU

"Donald Trump's Muslim Ban cruelly separated families and imposed serious psychological, financial, and even physical harm on countless individuals," Mary Bauer, legal director at Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, said Tuesday in a statement. "Disappointingly, after a 45-day review, the Biden administration has chosen to do next to nothing to help undo that harm."

"For the last four years and even longer, victims of the Muslim Ban have been meticulously navigating the red tape to apply for a visa," Bauer continued. "This includes pouring over documents, paying significant fees, traveling to attend interviews, and getting by on the slim hope that they will get a visa and can resume their lives with their families."

And yet, she added, "to those families whose dreams were crushed by the Muslim Ban over the past four years, the Biden administration has sent a clear message: sorry, start over and pay us again."

On day one of his presidency, Biden signed Proclamation 10141, "Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States." Calling his predecessor's executive actions that prevented roughly 40,000 individuals from predominantly Muslim and African countries from entering the U.S. "a stain on our national conscience," Biden revoked one executive order and three proclamations issued by Trump between March 6, 2017 and January 31, 2020.

On Monday, following a 45-day review period ordered by Biden, the State Department announced that some visa applicants who were denied entry to the U.S. as a result of Trump's Muslim Ban may "seek to have their applications reconsidered."

Reuters reported that visa applicants "who were refused visas prior to Jan. 20, 2020, must submit new applications and pay a new application fee. Those who were denied on or after Jan. 20, 2020, may seek reconsideration without re-submitting their applications and do not have to pay additional fees."

But, as Business Insider noted, "the White House left out one significant group: thousands of people who were selected to receive 'diversity visas'—intended, as the name suggests, to encourage migration from underrepresented people—only to have them taken away by an executive order by Donald Trump, who then tried to eliminate the diversity program altogether."

According to the State Department, diversity visa applicants from fiscal year 2017 to 2020 who were denied visas by the Trump administration are now ineligible for redress "as the deadlines for visa issuance in those fiscal years have expired."

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told Business Insider that the Biden administration's failure to include diversity visa applicants among the beneficiaries of its reversal of Trump's Muslim Ban is "disheartening and disappointing."

"These individuals are in a worse off position now because this government, regardless of whether it's Biden or Trump, made a promise to them and they acted on that," said Ayoub, whose group has urged the federal government to circumvent any legal issues related to the expiration of diversity visa applications by granting "humanitarian parole" to those affected, after which legislation could be enacted to allow recipients to "apply for asylum or some other residency-granting legal status once they are here."

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"If you call the Muslim Ban discriminatory," he added, "then you should [do] the full extent to rectify what was done."

"The Biden administration is not doing enough to do right by these families and must find some way to bring them meaningful help."
—Mary Bauer, Muslim Advocates

Biden's refusal to provide relief to diversity visa applicants who were discriminated against by the Trump administration was also denounced by Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel at the ACLU.

"While President Biden is right to call the Muslim Ban 'a stain on our national conscience,' he has failed to help so many of those harmed by it," said Waheed.

"The opportunity to 'win' a diversity visa is a rare and life-changing opportunity that was snatched away from thousands of people because of President Trump's hatred and discrimination," Waheed continued. "Instead of restoring this opportunity, President Biden just dusted off Trump's 'CLOSED' sign and locked the door behind him."

According to Waheed, "This decision threatens to forever prevent thousands of Black and Brown immigrants who meet all of the legal requirements to immigrate to the United States from doing so, perpetuating the effects of the discriminatory ban."

"Although Biden made the Muslim Ban rescission a day one priority, that alone is not enough," she added. "Today, he cemented Trump's legacy of harm."

In an op-ed published last week, Waheed argued that "the Biden administration must do everything possible to undo the Trump administration's harms, including reopening previously denied cases to fairly reassess their claims, waiving fees (especially for those who would have to pay a second time), expediting their cases, and ensuring people are not penalized for the previous administration's visa denials."

The State Department claims to have "explored every possible avenue under the law for providing relief to affected individuals."

In response, Bauer said that "while it may be true that they explored every possible avenue, it is clear that they chose not to take the avenues that would provide relief to families who were harmed by the Muslim Ban."

"The Biden administration is not doing enough to do right by these families," she added, "and must find some way to bring them meaningful help."

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