CCR and Muslim Advocates File FOIA on Opaque Muslim Ban Waiver Process
January 23, 2018, New York, NY – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Muslim Advocates (MA) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request demanding documents from federal agencies related to visa denials to dozens of Yemeni families seeking entry to the U.S., stemming from President Trump’s Muslim Ban. The FOIA request seeks information on the process by which the federal government has purportedly agreed to grant case-by-case waivers from the Muslim Ban to certain individuals from countries whose citizens are otherwise denied entry to the United States. Despite the administration’s claim that the waiver process would be “robust,” the organizations have received reports of en masse denials to people who should, according to the administration’s guidelines, be eligible for a waiver, casting doubt on whether a meaningful process exists at all. The request is directed at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of State, Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
“This supposed waiver process has been mired with lack of transparency and confusion, leaving scores of families of United States citizens stranded abroad, many of whom are fleeing war and seek to join their loved ones in the United States,” said CCR Staff Attorney Diala Shamas. “Despite making much ado about the availability of a waiver as a defense to the legality of the Muslim Ban, the administration has provided no clarity on how to secure one – or if they are really even available – which is what we are urgently seeking with this request.”
The request comes on the heels of the organizations receiving reports of unprecedented numbers of people being denied visas and waivers, particularly Yemenis stranded in Djibouti in the wake of the war in Yemen who are awaiting reunification with family members in the United States. Beginning on December 17, 2017, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates began hearing that the U.S. Consulate in Djibouti had issued a significant but unknown number of form letters denying both visas and waivers to Yemenis with family members in the United States awaiting the processing of their applications. The organizations received reports of other U.S. consulates issuing similar denial letters during the same week—including in Armenia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Jordan.
“The government has repeatedly held out the waiver process as a meaningful route through which individuals can come to the United States, but functionally appears to be denying waivers en masse to many people in dire circumstances, including children,” said Sirine Shebaya, Senior Staff Attorney with Muslim Advocates. “Individual applicants are not getting an opportunity to apply or make a case for why they should qualify for a waiver, and, thus far, the ban’s implementation suggests that the administration never intended to seriously consider individuals for waivers.”
Among those denied waivers were the children of Mr. Rami Almansoob, a U.S. citizen living in the United States. His daughters, ages, 12, 9, and 5, left their home in Sanaa’, Yemen, with their mother and grandmother fleeing the war, for Djibouti, where they awaited the processing of their visa to join their father in the United States. He has reached out to legal organizations seeking answers. “I asked the Department of State to give me the basis for which my daughters were not considered for a waiver, but they never responded,” said Mr. Almansoob. “It is dangerous for them to go back to Yemen, and we cannot afford to keep them in Djibouti.”