For Iranian-Americans, Trump travel ban keeps families apart

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IRVINE, Calif. (AP) - Update: (7/1/17): Weddings have been moved and family visits delayed.

The Trump administration's travel ban, while a shadow of its original self, has dealt a harsh blow to the Iranian-American community, where family ties run strong and friends and loved ones regularly shuttle between Los Angeles and Tehran.

But it isn't the only immigration hurdle facing the community. Iranians allowed to seek visas to visit family in the United States may still have a hard time getting them with a screening process that can take months or longer, immigration lawyers said.

In the meantime, families are being kept apart. Iranian-American homemaker Mina Thrani, 38, had hoped to invite her aunt to visit her in Irvine over the Christmas holiday but can't because of the ban.

Xena Amirani, an 18-year-old college student from Los Angeles, said her family has been grieving since her grandmother died after being struck by a car while crossing the street. They traveled to Iran to bury her. Now, her uncle and his wife want to travel together to visit the family in California to help console them, but the travel ban is in the way.

"It is pointless," Amirani said.

The scaled-back version of President Donald Trump's policy that took effect this week places new limits on visa policies for citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, including Iran. The temporary ban requires people who want new visas to prove a close family relationship in the U.S. or an existing relationship with an entity like a school or business.

The U.S. has nearly 370,000 Iranian immigrants, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, far more than the other countries targeted by the order - Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

Despite a lengthy history of friction between Tehran and Washington, personal ties between residents of the two countries have held strong.

"Everyone is being hit by this because everyone has a relative in Iran, and there is quite a lot of travel in between," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.

But travel isn't always easy, and the challenge predates the Trump administration. Because there is no U.S. embassy in Iran, Iranians must go to other countries for visa interviews, requiring time and money.

And it can take longer to get visas approved for Iranians than for citizens of many other countries, immigration attorneys said, while U.S. officials conduct screenings.

"Even under Obama, it was very hard to get these visas and get the background checks cleared. But now, it is official policy," said Ally Bolour, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles.

The Department of Homeland Security said this week that the Supreme Court's decision to allow a partial reinstatement of the ban will help protect the U.S.

But that rings hollow to some Iranian-Americans who note that many in their community came to the U.S. seeking freedom following Iran's Islamic revolution of the 1970s and that the hijackers who carried out the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States were from other countries not limited by the ban.

Trump's initial travel ban in January was broader, affecting current and new visas, which sparked chaos at airports around the world.

Mina Jafari, a 28-year-old graphic designer in Washington, said that during that time, her fiancée's Iranian mother was in the process of obtaining a visa to travel to the couple's wedding, but it was revoked because of the ban.

That prompted Jafari to move the wedding to Iran so her soon-to-be mother-in-law could attend. The only problem is her elder sister can't go with her due to concerns about her political activism.

"I have family who is banned from Iran, family banned here," Jafari said. "It is a really crazy situation."

(06/29/17) - The Latest on the Trump administration's revived travel ban for visitors from six mostly Muslim countries (all times EDT):

8:10 p.m.

The Trump administration's travel ban temporarily barring some citizens of six majority-Muslim countries from coming to the United States in now in place.

The ban is entering into force because of a Supreme Court opinion this week.

The new rules stop people from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iran and Libya from getting a visa to the United States unless they have a "bona fide" relationship with a close relative, school or business in the U.S.

The order doesn't block anyone with a valid visa from entering the country. Refugees vetted and approved to move to the U.S. through July 6 are also being allowed in.


7:50 p.m.

Hawaii has filed a court challenge to the Trump administration's limitations on the family relationships people from six mostly Muslim countries need to claim to avoid a travel ban.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday exempted people from the ban if they can prove a "bone fide" relationship with a U.S. citizen or entity. The Trump administration had said the exemption would apply to citizens of Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the U.S.

Hawaii filed an emergency motion Thursday asking a federal judge to clarify that the administration cannot enforce the ban against fiancés or relatives not defined by the administration guidelines.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson did not immediately issue a ruling.


11:30 a.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says it hopes for a "generous approach" from the United States as the Trump administration adjusts U.S. refugee resettlement policies.

Spokesman William Spindler of UNHCR noted the U.S. "tradition of generosity toward those fleeing war and persecution" after the administration set new criteria for visa applicants from six mostly Muslim nations and all refugees.

International aid agencies like UNHCR have been seeking new details about the changes after the U.S. Supreme Court partially restored a travel ban sought by the administration.

Spindler said the U.S., like any country, can screen applicants for resettlement and set criteria for entry like language skills or family ties. He said resettlement is reserved for the most vulnerable people, like at-risk women and girls, people with acute medical conditions or torture victims.

Spindler said the United States, even if it takes in 50,000 refugees this year, would remain the world leader in resettlement. Turkey has taken in the most refugees overall, at more than 3 million people - many from neighboring Syria.


10:20 a.m.

There have been no major problems reported at airports around the world, in the hours since the Trump administration announced new guidelines for visa applicants from six mostly Muslim nations. Travelers will be required to show they have a close family or business tie to the United States.

Visas that have already been approved will not be revoked. That should help avoid the chaos that accompanied the initial travel ban, when travelers with previously-approved visas were kept off flights or denied entry on arrival in the United States.

The Supreme Court this week partially restored President Donald Trump's executive order that had been widely criticized as a ban on Muslims.


5 a.m.

The Middle East's biggest airline says its flights to the United States are operating as normal as new travel guidelines come into effect for travelers for six mainly Muslim nations.

Dubai-based Emirates said in response to questions on the travel ban Thursday that it "remains guided by the US Customs and Border Protection on this matter."

The carrier reminded passengers that they "must possess the appropriate travel documents, including a valid US entry visa, in order to travel."

Emirates in April announced it was reducing flights to the U.S. because of a drop in demand linked to tougher security and proposed visa measures. It flies from Dubai to 12 U.S. destinations, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

Also, an official at the Beirut airport says Lebanon's Middle East Airlines carrier has not received any new guidelines yet and they're operating as normal.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to media. MEA does not operate direct flights to the United States but is used by many Syrians who travel to the U.S. via MEA with a stopover in Europe.

-Zeina Karam in Beirut.


4:25 a.m.

The guidelines are getting clearer on a travel ban partially restored by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Trump administration has set new criteria for visa applicants from six mainly Muslim nations and all refugees that require a "close" family or business tie to the United States. The move comes after the court partially restored President Donald Trump's executive order that was widely criticized as a ban on Muslims.

Visas that have already been approved will not be revoked.

But instructions issued by the State Department on Wednesday said that new applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States to be eligible. The same requirement, with some exceptions, holds for would-be refugees from all nations that are still awaiting approval for admission to the U.S.

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