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Sunday, September 27, 2020

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An Eritrean father yearning to be reunited with his four children after 15 years apart. An American woman adopting a Nigerian toddler. A Nigerian man desperate to be with his American wife and children.

These are some of the families waiting to see how they will be affected by President Donald Trump’s expansion of the U.S. travel ban.

Awet, who asked that Reuters use a nickname to avoid reprisals against his family, fled Eritrea in 2005. He is now a U.S. citizen.

Awet described how he hugged his four young children hard, whispering only to his weeping mother that he was leaving forever. For three days, he said, he hid under rocks by day and dodged hyenas and soldiers at night as he tried to cross the border.

Awet spent four years as a refugee in Ethiopia and Kenya before being resettled to the United States in 2009. When a 2018 peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea made it possible for the children to leave Eritrea safely, he finally dared hope he would see them again. Awet had been trying to bring his children over on family visas for the past year.

But on Friday, Trump, a Republican, issued an expanded version of his travel ban that suspended immigrant visas – a category that includes family visas – for Eritreans and Nigerians. The other countries with new restrictions are Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Tanzania and Sudan.

U.S. Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf said the restrictions were needed because the six countries had failed to meet U.S. security and information-sharing standards. But U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, called the ban “discrimination disguised as policy.”

“Trump’s new law, for us, it’s very hurtful,” said Awet, speaking by phone from his home in the United States. “At least let the children in … those who want to come to be with their mother or father.”

Awet said he is still praying that he will see his children – now aged 14-18 – again one day. Their mother is in the Middle East.

“I’m leaving it to God,” he told Reuters.

“God and a lawyer,” his attorney Kari Scofield chimed in.

“You are powerless”

In the West African powerhouse of Nigeria, 37-year-old Californian Lynsey Elston is waiting to find out if or when her newly adopted daughter will be able to meet the rest of the family back in the United States.

The former social worker always wanted to adopt. Three-year-old Eliana Ezinne arrived at her home in Nigeria on Christmas Eve 2019 after years of paperwork, interviews and uncertainty.

“This is my child,” she said as she cuddled the sleepy girl. “I can’t be separated from my child.”

Hasan Shafiqullah, head of the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society in New York, told Reuters that Elston can apply for Eliana’s citizenship only from inside the United States, and Eliana can enter only on an immigrant visa.

The 2017 version of the travel ban outlines which groups can qualify for waivers, including adoptees, and the expanded ban says it will follow the same guidelines. But the system for obtaining waivers has proven opaque and difficult to navigate, and there is an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the government’s implementation of the process.

“The emotion I am feeling is anger,” Elston said at her home in an upscale neighborhood of Lagos.

In the same city, a 38-year-old Nigerian man quit his job last month as he prepared to move to the United States with his two toddlers and wife – all U.S. citizens. He asked for anonymity to avoid prejudicing his visa application.

The man said his mother and two sisters, also U.S. citizens, live in America, and he studied there and lived there for a decade. He wanted his children to grow up near his family, he said, and he considers America his second home.

Asked what he will do if he cannot get a visa to move with his family, he drew in a long, slow breath and went silent.

“I’m afraid to even consider that,” he said at last. “You really are powerless.”

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