Biden sued over coronavirus visa restrictions initiated under Trump

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A coalition of immigration advocates is suing the Biden administration over a Trump-era policy that froze visa issuance in 35 different countries due to COVID-19.

Former President Trump signed several orders during the early days of the pandemic barring entry from a number of countries, prompting the State Department to stop issuing visas for both travel and immigration purposes. President Biden expanded on the policy, signing a similar order adding South Africa to the list.

“Due to Defendants’ unlawful refusal to issue visas to individuals in these countries, the plaintiffs are subject to a total, inescapable ban on receiving their visas, or even having these visas adjudicated,” lawyers wrote in their brief.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of nearly 200 different plaintiffs, including those seeking to come to the U.S. to work or join family members, by a number of immigration lawyers and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Lawyers argue that while the president has a right to suspend entry into the U.S., that does not require the State Department to stop issuing visas, particularly given the large number of people facing lengthy wait times to come to the U.S.

“The broader problem is that the Department of State has an immense — bigger than it’s ever been — backlog and this is only adding the problem to the problem,” said Jesse Bless with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The State Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, and the White House did not respond to request for comment.

Counties have been added to the list through a series of six different presidential proclamations, five of them signed under Trump. 

“Given the importance of protecting persons within the United States from the threat of this harmful communicable disease, I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to take action to restrict and suspend the entry into the United States,” Trump wrote in his first order in late January of last year restricting the entry of Chinese citizens.

Iran, 26 European countries and Brazil and South Africa were covered by subsequent presidential proclamations.

Lawyers argue the freeze on visa processing is stalling applicants’ lives. 

“Family members remain separated indefinitely,” they wrote, while those seeking K visas to marry a U.S. citizen have been forced to delay their weddings.

“Many are eager to start families, and some worry that they are facing declining fertility due to the prolonged delay.”

Just hours after the suit was filed, the State Department announced the presidential proclamations would no longer apply to those seeking fiance visas.

Bless said the move was another example of the administration picking and choosing what categories of potential immigrants would be exempted from the bans.

The suit comes as Biden has otherwise pushed for massive immigration reform, pushing Congress to pass an immigration package that would provide a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million people already in the U.S. while expanding a number of other immigration caps.

Biden recently allowed a separate Trump-era order to expire that restricted certain work and research-related visas.

That policy barred those seeking to come to the U.S. under a number of visa categories from entering the country, arguing that the impact of COVID-19 on the economy required limiting foreign workers.

Updated at 3:36 p.m.

Tags COVID-19 Donald Trump Immigration Joe Biden Travel ban travel restrictions Visa
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