President Trump's travel ban has been upheld by the Supreme Court. People from the seven banned countries can still come to the U.S. if they get a special "waiver." So far, few people have gotten them. We follow one Yemeni family as they try to get a waiver to escape a civil war. Supreme Court audio in this episode comes from Oyez.
United States


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00:00:18telling recovers and i'm chris bender of and this is embedded this is cnn breaking news let's go back to jessica the decision has been announced go ahead jessica the supreme court has reversed the ninth circuit what that means is that the supreme court is up holding the president's
00:00:36travel ban in june two thousand eighteen the supreme court upheld the trump administration so called travel tonight president trump's first major supreme court victory his president tweeted this response to the ruling supreme court upholds trump travel ban wow actually this travel ban is the third travel ban signed
00:00:57by the president the first one was right after trump got inaugurated remember all those protests against the bandit airports across the country A federal court blocked that band and there was another band blocked again and the third ban as you just heard was upheld by the supreme court
00:01:14which means that if you're from one of the banned countries libya iran somalia syria yemen north korea or venezuela you cannot be granted a visa to the us but there is an exception in that exception is what we're going to be talking about today It's called a waiver
00:01:34and it means that if you live in one of these countries but you're not a security risk to the united states and you would face what's called undue hardship in your country You can apply for one of these waivers and then if you get it you could get
00:01:48a visa and come here The trump administration says that these waivers mean there is no muslim ban Muslims with a waiver can still get in and this is actually one reason that the supreme court upheld the ban But other people say that these waivers are arbitrary and really
00:02:04hard to get People who seem to meet all the criteria are still getting rejected Sick people elderly people whose families are already here And as you're about to hear for people who live in these band countries especially countries that are in the middle of a war these waivers
00:02:21khun b the only chance they have to get out and what you have to do to try to get a waiver It's not easy Support for this podcast and the following message come from zip recruiter Hiring is challenging but zip recruiter can make it simple smart and fast
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00:03:10to hire hey there I'm joshua johnson the host of one a There are lots of places to debate today's issues if you don't mind getting attacked for speaking your mind or asking a simple question but one a is different You'll find the one a podcast on the npr
00:03:24one app or wherever you listen to podcasts So kelly what is the plan for today so i think to really understand the travel ban and to really understand these waivers i'm gonna need to tell you a story all right it's about a man whose family got caught up
00:03:46in the trump travel ban and who believes his only chance to save his family it's to try to get one of these waivers okay so let's start with this guy named najeeb al ahmadi he's from yemen we met him recently so tell yeah maybe just start from the
00:04:03beginning when i still been ninth on behalf later with the philadelphia way talked him through an interpreter first enter to the state was he first comes to the u s in the nineties like a lot of men from yemen do he makes his money working gas stations condition
00:04:18a few gestation sends the money back home gets married he has three daughters so what the hell's in two thousand ten he gets american citizenship us citizen and his plan is to stay in the u s keep the family in yemen maybe eventually they join him in the
00:04:38rest later but then there these massive protests in yemen the president of yemen is ousted and eventually this militant group called the houthis launches an attack and takes over the capital of yemen this's in two thousand fourteen ravaged by war yemen is in the midst of the worst
00:05:02humanitarian crisis in the world and it's basically the beginning of the civil war that yemen is in right now amnesty accuses all sides in yemen civil war of leaving a bloody trail of civilian deaths which may amount to war crimes soneji be still in the u s he's
00:05:19starting to really worry about his family especially about his oldest daughter her name is shima and she has severe cerebral palsy she can't speak she can't move she can't eat by herself and she needs to take medicine for five times a day keeper muscles relaxed and to keep
00:05:40her from having spasms but she's living in this war so there's a shortage of medicine i think could get her into the physical therapy plus the medications that she needs to take they couldn't find it on the pharmacy so so najeeb applies for visas for his wife and
00:06:02daughters to come to the u s then in two thousand sixteen there's a bombing like right near his family's house i thought it was the bombing very next to them they didn't know what to dio you know he reached him by phone they're like hiding in the basement
00:06:26you know they're trying to like stay away from the windows so at that time after that bombing he decided they need to be with me and the jeep's like i have got to get my family out yeah while all this is happening right back here in the united
00:06:41states we put out a statement a little while ago and these people are going crazy donald trump is campaigning for president Donald j trump is called promising a total and complete shutdown of muslims entering the united states and then he gets elected And a few days after he's
00:07:00inaugurated he announces this thing called the travel ban I'm establishing new vetting measures to keep radical islamic terrorists out of the united states The president has ordered all travelers from iran iraq libya somalia sudan syria and yemen to be denied entry to the united states for the next
00:07:23ninety days and writes the first weekend after the inauguration You remember right Oh my gosh What started out saturday as a spontaneous demonstration at jfk had spread to airports from coast to coast sunday And najeeb remember this man from yemen who's trying to get his family out now
00:07:54his family is a target of this band at this point the jeep is living in san francisco he's working at a gas station and after work that day he actually goes to the airport to protest chester's packed sfo's international arrival area near where they believe travelers might be
00:08:14detained so wait i think that it was a few days after the inauguration and we all received this cable full of kind of misspellings and loopholes and it made no sense and i think a lot of us were understandably at that time outraged this is chris richardson he
00:08:39used to be a consular officer in the state department at an american embassy overseas and the reason i'm introducing you to chris richardson is because he's the kind of person who decides whether or not najib's family gets to come to united states what do you mean he gets
00:08:57to decide like he's the guy who would meet the jeep's family in an embassy overseas review their application for a visa and decide whether or not to accept it so he's the person on the other end of the table like during an interview with people who want to
00:09:10emigrate right So chris richardson he does not like this ban He does not like this band We knew it for what it wass i think that they wanted to meet this promise of banning muslims as soon as possible and sort of ram it down our throats chris says
00:09:25Not everybody in the state department felt this way but some people felt so strongly that they put together something called a descent cable This is where people across the department right thiss like collective letter to secretary of state at the time rex tillerson saying we disagree with this
00:09:43there have been officers who talked about doing walkouts that have been officers talking about you know wearing certain clothes and protest because at that time we were all pretty shocked and outraged by because they were going to have to be the ones to enforce it you know they
00:09:57were the ones who like on the front lines of enforcing this thing that some of them didn't agree with but then they learned pretty quickly that if they do that kind of stuff don't get fired We got word that a lot of the things that we wanted to
00:10:10do actually would permit the administration to immediately fire us And so if we did a walk out for example we were told by our union that you know if you do a walk out you guys might lose your jobs All right so like we said in the beginning
00:10:24the travel ban gets put on hold and there's another travel band then it gets put on hold and so the application for new jobs family to get a visa keeps moving forward and i should say in the gym's pretty confident they're going to get the visas so at
00:10:39this point he decides to go back to yemen and be with them until they get the visas and then they could all come to the us together but the thing is it is not easy to get into yemen i mean yemen's in middle of a war the main
00:10:55airport in the country and the capital is closed has been closed for a long time and the other airport is in the south but no jeeves family lives in the north so to get from that airport to his house he's basically crossing a frontline in this war and
00:11:11there's checkpoints along the way you never know who's controlling each one eventually najeeb gets home and he's back with his family and the next thing that happens is he gets an e mail from the united states government and it says the family needs to provide proof of medical
00:11:31exam proving that family has the right vaccinations stuff like that But to do that najeeb is gonna have to go to djibouti it's the nearest country to yemen with a u s embassy that's open so djibouti how far away is that it's Across the red sea from yemen
00:11:49It's about an hour flight away So naggy piles the family in a car to make the drive from his city to the airport again basically crossing the frontline of this war And so our producer tom dreisbach asks about that trip And how long was the cart ride from
00:12:09ip Get that thing Almost fifteen hours he says The drive was really hard for shima najib's oldest daughter who has cerebral palsy and can't speak The can it she was itself trying to get some now and sleep but she couldn't because of like the bumping the road and
00:12:37broken and she was like crying screaming so they finally get to add in they check into a hotel and the next morning yemen's iran backed houthi government is now taking credit for a long range missile fired at saudi arabia the saudi government says they find out that the
00:12:55houthis have launched an attack on saudi arabia and the airport in aden is closed so it's about a month before the airport reopens and they can finally fly to djibouti for the medical exams actually have to fly from yemen to sudan to ethiopia to djibouti so three flights
00:13:17three flights with three children three children in shame a the thing to know about shima she doesn't have a wheelchair they carry her wherever they go so they get to do beauty and they take shame a to a clinic it's not cheap you know i've started to think
00:13:35when you were talking teo najeeb like how much money has this whole saga it cost that we could do it twenty five thousand dollars all in people in you know i'm only your commission that twenty five thousand dollars yes you get some of this money from his savings
00:13:50from working in the us the rest of it he has to borrow from friends and relatives because he has to buy furniture and pay rent and pay for these medical appointments and food and everything to keep the family going So he gets the medical exam And then after
00:14:07waiting two years since they first applied for these visas they finally get a phone call from the embassy who come to the phone saying they have an appointment for an interview Well i asked you but that feels like he's like fear Hubby is was a local from the
00:14:25embassy you know So yeah this is it Yep It's a big moment End there's another big moment happening back in the u s we're in late two thousand seventeen right now and what's happened is the third travel ban has been announced and eventually it goes to the u
00:14:46s supreme court which rules that the band can stay in effect until it hears the case and now at this point part of the band is the people can apply for these waivers but the problem is nobody knows exactly how these waivers work like there's no form to
00:15:03fill out to say i am applying for this waiver instead if you're from a band country you still apply for a visa and you automatically are considered for a waiver and to get a waiver you have to meet these three criteria in the criteria are quote one denying
00:15:24entry would cause the foreign national undue hardship two entry would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the u s and three entry would be in the national interest chris richardson says in order to get a waiver not only do you the consular
00:15:45officer have to prove it you're a consular manager in the embassy has to approve it and then washington has to improve it it's got to go all the way to d c yeah it has to go all the way to d c which is very different then the
00:15:58regular visa process chris says like with visas the officer has a lot of discretion to make his own decisions And chris has The thing to remember about this job that they dio is that you're seeing between seventy eighty ninety one hundred twenty applicants a day maybe even in
00:16:18a single morning And so basically an applicant has five minutes And so to push someone through those layers of theocracy right there's no incentive to do that you know during review time as an officer you can't say well the reason why i did forty visas and my colleague
00:16:33did ninety visas because i tried to issue as many waivers as possible You know it was going to look at you Like what You know they're going to look at you like you're some kind of do gooder a hero but that's not going to help you move up
00:16:46in the state department And it's Not long after this that chris richardson actually quits his job He decides he can do more good on the outside talking about all this than he could do on the inside I ultimately believed that you know this decision by this president will
00:17:03go down as a black mark on american history And i want it to be known to my son one day and my family that i tried to do something about this I might not be successful But at the very least not only myself But i can't speak for
00:17:20other consul officers that we didn't go and support this without fighting both internally and externally Again not all consular officers feel the same way as chris he says some of them who originally imposed the ban actually came to believe they could work with it over time so for
00:17:47najeeb going into this visa interview this travel ban is now in place yemen is on the list to get the visas for his wife and his daughters his family is goingto have to now qualify for a waiver so the appointment is in early two thousand eighteen at the
00:18:06american embassy in djibouti and jeb still really confident they're going to get this waiver as he calls it an exception for him he was so happy and he was really optimistic they has the lawyer assured for him that everything is going to be fine don't worry you are
00:18:25exception your cases exception so don't worry so the waiver right this way everybody got dressed up they all go to the embassy he's carrying shame a and his arms and held up tio can fear how he was in the waiting room and watches his two families untold woman
00:18:43go in for their appointments and come out and say they all got rejected although he's still keeping the hall of saying i'm okay so no jeeps time comes up he walks into the consulate's office and the consular officer is looking at the application for the family at first
00:19:02he looks at the youngest daughter's applications she's five and she was born after energy became a citizen So the consular officers like she's fine she's already a citizen and he looks at the other two daughters shima who's ten and selma who's seven and that the mother's application and
00:19:21the counselor officer says the rest of you are rejected We are under a band and then he says it in arabic a presidential decision I think I just wanna make sure that he understood the whole thing Like this american guy says it to najeeb in arabic as if
00:19:42to just make sure it's very clear almost like it's not coming from me Come from the president How long was the meeting at the consulate With Officials have walked a remarkable ability consul and ricky homes that i will give you five minutes Summit When he left he was
00:20:06really in a terrible situation and kids were crying and he was like really disappointing He didn't know what to do So g it's just totally surprised I mean he's just completely shocked devastated thing about the jib He's like he's like all right what's Next go back to the
00:20:26apartment try to figure out a plan and yeah This message comes from npr sponsor hbo from the author of gone girl the producer of get out and the director of big little lies comes the limited siri's sharp objects amy adams operating at the peak of her abilities says
00:21:01variety stars as camille prik er a reporter who returns home to investigate a string of child murders the grizzly case soon brings ca meals own scars to the surface sharp objects premieres sunday july eighth at nine what's unique about the human experience and what we all have in
00:21:19common i'm guy raz every week on ted radio hour we go on a journey through the big ideas emotions and discoveries that fill all of us with wonder find it on npr one or wherever you get your podcasts at this point najibullah all marty's wife and daughters have
00:21:35been rejected for a visa to the united states and the jib does two things a friend put him in touch with a group of lawyers who represent muslim americans you jib tells him his story and then the lawyers put his story into an amicus brief that's in front
00:21:51of the court brief that they're filing in that supreme court case that's going to determine whether or not the travel ban stands trump versus the state of why and in the second thing that he does and he starts talking to reporters gets interviewed by al jazeera and the
00:22:09jeep thought that given shame is conditioned on the fact that he's an american citizen they would qualify for a waiver Also cnn is reporting on the job in his family and then on april twenty fifth We'll hear argument Today In case seventeen supreme court of the united states
00:22:25hears oral arguments in trump for swipe president united states versus hawaii and shame A najib's daughter who has cerebral palsy is mentioned in these arguments They're brought up by the lawyer for the state of why a ten year old with cerebral palsy who wants to come to the
00:22:44united states to save her life and she can't move or talk The ten year old was denied a waiver justice prior Then just skins berg asks the lawyer for the government about can you deal with the example that was brought up The tablet Your honor the waiver is
00:23:03built Teo address those issues I am not familiar enough with the details of that case to tell you what happened in that particular case But that's What The waiver present provisions that two days later najeeb reads an email from the united states government The email is actually from
00:23:30that same consular officer who did their interview and the officer says that during the interview it was clear that shame a did in fact have cerebral palsy And then he writes i determine the very same day that your family's case clearly met the standard of hardship And i
00:23:50therefore recommended your family for a waiver However i could not inform you of this the time because under department rules the waiver still required review from my supervisor But he writes the waiver was approved and as of today april twenty fourth two thousand eighteen your family's case is
00:24:09still in administrative processing This is april twenty fourth It's actually the day before orel arguments in the supreme court Najeeb just didn't read the email until april twenty seven What so what does that email mean What it means is the consular officer is saying we made the decision
00:24:33to grant you a waiver it's going to take a little more time to actually get it but you're gonna get a waiver no it's a strange email right because najib's family had already been rejected in this one on one interview with the consular officer and then he gets
00:24:48this email which seems to totally reverse that decision Yeah we tried to get clarity from the state department on this They say they don't comment on people's individual cases So the point is this should be good news for energy It says his wife and daughters have been recommended
00:25:08for a waiver but here's the crazy thing nog doesn't believe it He just read the email like oh they're just trying to save face Najeeb at this point it's just really devastated he does not think the family's going to get the waiver look a dim yellow fish e
00:25:30i lost hope totally It was like all the doors are closed in front of me in a thousand shima tomorrow and shame a herc is getting worse remember they're still living in djibouti at this point and shima starts having trouble swallowing food and water and has to be
00:25:53hospitalized it's really hard I mean here there they thought djibouti was going to be this jumping off point for the u s but they don't get the visas and they can't afford to live in djibouti anymore and they're no other countries that will take them in So no
00:26:10jeeves like i'm just going to take the family back to yemen even though there's a war there i'm just going to try to make a life for now So now he's back in yemen Yes So then what A month later they get it from its armaments availability He
00:26:42received a phone call from the american embassy People teach in djibouti actually have a recording of this phone call and snow jeeps wife asma on you could hear interpret or talking to them speaking to the family in arabic and then speaking tio someone in the u s embassy
00:27:01in english thie call is super confusing Let me try to explain it happens on may seventeenth two thousand eighteen and what they're saying to him is your medical records will expire on may twenty nine twenty nine twenty nine may you need to go to the united states before
00:27:22made twenty nine what's happening here is it sounds like they're going to get the visas but no one's saying that like we're not saying congratulations hey didn't mention clearly that you get there you go the visa He mentioned that you need to come and enter the states before
00:27:40the twenty ninth and our interpreter tells us that the interpreter on the call is like he kind of wants to tell najib's wife you've got the visa but he can't tell her this is what our interpreter thinks it's happening So one more time dr from m ped adan
00:28:04thiss time they'd look out they get a direct flight from adam to djibouti they get a message like when they land saying right now leave everything and go to the embassy right now he walks right into the same room close enough silk johnson meets the same consular officer
00:28:21that they met before the same one The first meeting we reached out to this officer to confirm some of the details of this case but he did not respond to our email And so the consular officer tells mcgee there's one little thing that he has to change in
00:28:37his applications Hollywood the passport and he asked him where the passports and he said these are the passport he said that's what i need i'm like tuna gbm like did you say anything to him the way one of your ward down Not a lot not a letter more
00:28:57he's like not a letter more than i needed to A couple days later Made twenty six Two thousand eighteen Najib asthma shima sela and lamia land a dick Ah a lot of people from the yemeni american community and the immigrants rights community there to welcome them with presents
00:29:29and balloons and american flags A month later the supreme court upholds the travel ban President trump gets what he wanted People from seven countries are banned and what many say is a vague and arbitrary waiver program is here to stay shamus case is mentioned in a dissenting opinion
00:29:56by the court it was written by justice breyer and he says it appears that shame I got the waver because of the international attention to her case which he says is quote more reason to believe that waivers are not being processed in an ordinary way He also says
00:30:13even though the administration said it would provide guidance on how to get waivers there still is no guidance Like i said there's no form to fill out and apply for a waiver and a lot of people in bam countries don't even know there is a waiver we should
00:30:28say we reached out to the white house to comment on all the criticisms of the waiver program but we did not get a response Do we know how many of these people that might be eligible for a waiver are actually getting one According to the state department as
00:30:42of mid june eight hundred and nine of these waivers have been granted out of more than thirty thousand applications So yet new jeeps family makes it to the u s but it's after that weird email on april what do you think happened Well we asked chris richardson about
00:31:07this because he's done that job before huh He says it's likely that the consular officer in new jobs families case gave them a formal rejection but was actually still pursuing a waiver for them behind the scenes the officer would like a personal e mail like that that's pretty
00:31:24remarkable that means the officer really felt strongly about that case and really felt that something had to be done And then the jeep talks to these lawyers who work for this muslim advocacy group and becomes part of the same mika's brief and his story appears on the mainstream
00:31:41media Do you think that could have had an effect Oh yeah oh yeah and everyone knows that in state that you know sometimes if cases get national or international attention things that were denials suddenly become approvals And if you're one of the tens of thousands of people who
00:31:58have applied for one of these waivers chris richardson says it doesn't hurt to be mentioned at the supreme court We should put all thirty thousand names on an amicus brief maybe everyone will then kid away for like their case is the exception not the rule so after all
00:32:26this house najeeb doing has his family The jib and his family are living in the central valley california And when we were there his two younger daughters were warning way What's your name Yeah thank you for coming Shaimaa was in the other room resting she's stable now and
00:32:55najib's says they're working with an organization that provides services for people with disabilities And the jeep's wife asma just got a green card The family has been told that the green cards for the girls are on the way What about other people from yemen though what's going to
00:33:15happen with them Well again we're just not seeing that many people getting waivers Our colleague npr Joel rose had a story on npr recently He was talking to this other dad from yemen whose trying to get visas for his family and he talks about how hopeful he and
00:33:33everyone else had been because of shame as case like they don't know her name I don't know you know about kramer the little girls They give a reason And even though their cases aren't related shame on getting the waiver made them think that the supreme court might rule
00:33:53in their favor But of course it didn't And now it just feels so final People have less hope than before This story was reported by me chris bender of nor woz woz and tom drives back It was produced by chris nor and tom It was edited by lisa
00:34:28pollock With help from neil caruso jerry holmes and mark mem it Our lawyer is actually messenger Our theme song is by kong Guam scans other original music by ram teen arab louis supreme court audio in this episode is from okay big thanks to our interpreter dahlia hussein and
00:34:44to npr's Joel rose also to monica villas and shirin s m e of valley public radio Patrick garrett of member station w amc and sean powers of georgia public broadcasting Embedded is executive produced by me anya grand men and chris turpin subscribed to this podcast If you haven't
00:35:01already hollering us on twitter at npr embedded that's it for a while will be back soon with more

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