Thousands of New Yorkers moved closer to reuniting with loved ones after President Joe Biden repealed the Trump administration’s ban on travel to the United States from several countries where local residents have roots, including Yemen, Iran and Syria.
Hours after his inauguration on Wednesday, Biden signed an executive order that alleviated pain felt by immigrants and their families since the Trump move thrust them into limbo four years ago this month.
“We really need to get together,” said Nashwan Mozeb, 29, a bodega worker from Middle Village, Queens, whose wife lives within a warzone in Sanaa, Yemen.
He’s been trying to bring her to the United States since September 2016, said Ahmed Mohamed, legal director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Mozeb was finally reunited a few months ago with his 7-year-old daughter, a U.S. citizen who came to New York for urgent medical care.
She previously spent time in Yemen and Egypt with her mother, but now lives in Staten Island with her grandmother as Mozeb works 12-hour overnight shifts.
Now, Mozeb hopes his wife’s visa application will swiftly be processed so their family can be under one roof again. “Every day I pray to God to get together because it’s too hard,” Mozeb said.
‘I Get Goosebumps’
The ban affected about 26,000 New Yorkers, 65% of whom are U.S. citizens, according to figures released by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs in 2018.
New Yorkers born in Yemen, Iran or Syria comprise the majority of those impacted: 13,400 are from Yemen, 6,900 from Iran and 5,100 from Syria.
With many pandemic-related travel restrictions and precautions in place, immigration advocates are uncertain when families will reunite but they hope it will be soon.
Debbie Almontaser, co-founder of the Yemeni American Merchants Association — which formed in response to Trump’s travel ban and fights for immigrant rights — said she’ll never forget the moment Biden signed the repeal.
“I get goosebumps every time I think about this moment,” said Almontaser, who on Thursday became the first Muslim woman to offer a prayer at a presidential inaugural service.
It’s “profoundly exhilarating and gratifying and humbling” to know that Biden understands the agony Trump’s policies caused many families, she said.
‘A Path to Citizenship’
Led by the New York Immigration Coalition, advocates gathered in Manhattan’s Battery Park on Thursday to celebrate the end of the ban. They also called on Biden, new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other members of Congress to enact sweeping immigration reform.
“We are grateful to the Biden administration for Day One, sending a very clear message that what we saw, the nationalist, nativist policies of the Trump administration are of yesteryear,” said Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
Mostofi told THE CITY that the city’s immigration legal service systems are ready to help New Yorkers affected by the ban and answer their questions. She invited calls to the legal helpline ActionNYC, at 1-800-354-0365.
“We have immigration counselors on the other side that can help walk through any questions they might have and they have the ability to set up appointments with our providers, which right now are being done virtually,” Mostofi said.
While still in celebratory mode, the immigration advocates focused their gaze on the next four years under Biden, hoping that he fulfills his promises on immigration.
“It is time we create a path to citizenship, not one that is conditioned on your race, religion or ethnicity,” Tahanie Aboushi, a civil rights lawyer who is running for Manhattan district attorney, said Thursday. “We need to stop this abuse, and we are calling on our leaders to do something permanent.”
Aboushi and allies also called on the Senate to approve the No Ban Act, which passed the House of Representatives last year and would prevent any future president from using their executive powers to bar people from the U.S. based on their religion.
There are signs that Biden is beginning to make good on his promises: On Wednesday evening, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security signed a memorandum to halt deportations for 100 days, beginning on Friday, and ordered a review of immigration enforcement policies.
Clipping Red Tape
Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry for Muslim Advocates, a national group, said she hopes Biden’s administration will give clear guidance to agencies carrying out his immigration policies.
Biden should “prioritize removing all the red tape that’s involved in processing visas or what it may be so that these individuals can be where they need to be, be with their families, as quickly as humanly possible,” she said.
Almontaser said she has many hopes for the Yemeni-American community in the city, including retroactively awarding so-called diversity visas denied in recent years, and more U.S. help for Yemen.
Mozeb said he prays the travel ban repeal means that he will reunite with not only his wife, but also sisters and cousins still living in Yemen.
“I hope it’s going to be much better,” he said.