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In Lawsuit Against Travel Ban, Groups Say Families Being Separated

Civil rights groups say only 2 percent of applicants for waivers under the travel ban have received them. (malisunshine/Twenty20)
Civil rights groups say only 2 percent of applicants for waivers under the travel ban have received them. (malisunshine/Twenty20)
August 2, 2018

SEATTLE – Civil rights groups are mounting another challenge to the Trump administration's travel ban with a lawsuit alleging the waiver process in the ban is a "sham" that is keeping families apart.

Groups, including two based in Washington state, and plaintiffs from all of the Muslim-majority countries in Trump's travel ban, filed a class action lawsuit in a Seattle district court on Wednesday.

The organizations involved in this lawsuit say only 2 percent of applicants for waivers have received them.

Babak Yousefzadeh, president of the Iranian American Bar Association, says the waiver process is, at best, arbitrary and haphazard.

"At worst, it may be an intentional design to decline waivers entirely and implement a near-total ban,” he asserts. “As alleged in our complaint, you'll see that despite expressed instructions in the ban itself, there appear to be no clear guidelines or rules established by the Department of State regarding waivers."

Yousefzadeh says the State Department hasn't offered clear guidance or consistent standards on how the waiver process works, and in many cases hasn't even offered applications.

Responding to a request for comment, the State Department says it doesn't comment on pending litigation.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the travel ban, pointing to waivers as evidence that the policy had been carefully crafted.

However, Justice Stephen Breyer said in his dissent that the government hasn't followed through on this, and has called these travel exceptions "window dressing" on the ban.

Paris Etemadi Scott, managing attorney at Pars Equality Center, which provides legal services to Iranian-Americans, says this lawsuit isn't a political stance – it's about reuniting families.

"It's about obtaining a waiver for a mother to visit her 35-year-old daughter in the U.S. with terminal brain cancer,” she states. “It's about reuniting a U.S. citizen with his beloved Iranian wife after successfully completing consular processing. It's about being present at the birth of one's grandchild or attending a loved one's funeral."

Countries affected by the ban include Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Venezuela.

The Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Seattle-based immigrant rights group OneAmerica have joined this lawsuit.

Three dozen people affected by the ban filed a separate lawsuit in California earlier this week.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA