Senate Passes Amendment on Travel Ban Waiver Reporting

Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

Washington, DC – Today, the Senate passed an omnibus bill for fiscal year 2019 that includes an amendment requiring public reporting on President Trump’s Travel Ban.  Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced the amendment after PAAIA, IABA, and PARS Equality Center worked with him in seeking clarification from the administration on the implementation of the Travel Ban waivers. Subsequently, PAAIA urged House Leaders, Appropriators, and other members of Congress to include the measure as part of the 2019 budget.

After being delayed by the government shutdown for 35 days, the omnibus bill was finally passed in the Senate today, clearing the pathway for Van Hollen’s amendment to be passed in the House and signed into law.  President Trump is expected to sign the budget bill this evening in order to prevent another government shutdown.

“PAAIA is grateful to Senator Van Hollen for his unfailing leadership in demanding transparency on the ineffective implementation of the waiver provisions under the discriminatory Travel Ban,” said PAAIA’s Executive Director, Leila Austin. “Despite the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Travel Ban, PAAIA remains committed to working with Senator Van Hollen and other members of Congress to hold authorities accountable in their implementation of the waiver provisions.”

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision to lift the stay on the Travel Ban in December 2017, our coalition received numerous reports of long-pending visa applications under “administrative processing” being denied, en masse rejection of visa applicants, and the unavailability of waiver applications. As a result, we worked with Sen. Van Hollen’s office to obtain clarification on the waiver process. Our efforts revealed that of 6,555 waiver applications, only two visas had received approval from the ban’s implementation in early December until late February. With so few waivers being issued, it appears that the waiver provisions included in the Travel Ban are nothing but “window dressing.”

Although the Supreme Court upheld the Ban in June 2018, dissenting justices referenced our coalition’s amicus brief, highlighting the ineffective waiver provisions.  Specifically, Justice Breyer pointed out that our amicus brief “identified 1,000 individuals—including parents and children of U. S. citizens—who sought and were denied entry under the Proclamation, hundreds of whom seem to meet the waiver criteria.”

Van Hollen’s amendment addresses the minimal waiver issuance by requiring the State Department to submit a report detailing the total number of visa applicants, pending applicants, and rejected applicants every 90 days to the appropriate congressional committees. This will provide a way for Congress and the public to hold the administration accountable for the Ban’s discriminatory implementation.

PAAIA, IABA, and PARS Equality Center remain committed to protecting the civil liberties of Iranian Americans and will continue to advocate against the discriminatory Travel Ban. The three organizations filed legal challenges to all three iterations of the Travel Ban in Federal court.

PAAIA thanks Sen. Van Hollen for his leadership on this important issue. PAAIA also thanks the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) for working with Sen. Van Hollen’s office on the amendment.

February 14, 2019

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