How Trump’s Travel Ban Is Keeping Families Apart
By: Lea Rose Emery
At Brides, we believe it is important to talk about both the wonderful and difficult aspects that come with marriage in the United States. In a new series, we explore the ways in which President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban affects our notions of family. From issues with parents attending weddings to the impact on childbirth, here we’ll talk about real lives being affected by the executive order.
“Weddings are supposed to celebrate the unification of our families—but we were being forced apart instead,” says Mina Jafari, an Iranian-American living in the U.S. For many of us, it’s impossible to imagine our weddings without our aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents surrounding us. Yet, like Jafari, many Americans have just been told that those relatives no longer count as “family” with the required “bona fide connection” needed, thanks to Trump’s travel ban.
The ban has, rightly, caused outrage among many. But with all of the headlines, it’s easy to forget the very human side of the ban. Even though the Department of Homeland Security has said it expects “business as usual at our ports of entry,” for millions of families, this ban is anything but business as usual. It’s claiming the authority to decide what a family is—and keeps families apart in the process.
Though the initial blanket ban faced legal challenges, the version that came into force at the end of June affects visitors from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as refugees. In theory, the ban applies only to those without a “bona fide connection” to family or business ties in the United States, but this is where things get tricky. While the tie includes spouses, parents, and siblings, it crucially leaves out grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces. For many of us, those relatives aren’t just close, they are an essential part of our family unit. In some families, children are raised by their grandparents. For many Americans, this is now a part of their reality. Imagine not being able have a close relative come to see your child; imagine them not even being allowed to attend your wedding.
That was exactly was the case for Jafari, who works for the National Iranian American Council, whose wedding plans were ground to “a screeching halt” because of the travel ban. She met her fiancé, Hesam Mostafavi, in Iran, and the two seemed to have a fairy-tale romance, destined for America. The day she arrived back in U.S., they found out he had won the U.S. green card lottery and would be able to join her here.
Unfortunately, while trying to plan their wedding, the travel ban stopped their good luck. Mostafavi’s mother and brother were refused visas before the ban’s legality was challenged. Jafari and Mostafavi were forced to make some tough choices. Even if her mother and brother applied again—and were able to get visas this time—no extended family would be able to get a visa under Trump’s definition of “close personal ties.” The law says that their family doesn’t count as family, just because of the country they’re from, so the couple had an impossible choice to make.
“We decided to move the wedding to Iran. At least there, we were sure most of my family could attend,” Jafari says. “However, due to concerns about her political activism, my older sister will not be able to travel to Iran for the wedding. This is never how I had imagined my wedding to be; at the very least, my sister is supposed to be by my side. She helped raise me and made me the person I am today, and it has absolutely broken my heart having to make a decision that prevents her from being with me on my wedding day.”
The idea of separating out immediate family from extended family just doesn’t work in some households and in many cultures affected by the ban. It’s an artificial distinction that just doesn’t work—and comes with a real human cost. Such is the case for 29-year-old Syrian-American Rama Issa, who decided to postpone her wedding after the travel ban took effect, as her father who lives in Damascus and a cousin who is a refugee in Austria would no longer be able to attend. In June, Issa, who is the executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, told Quartz: “The idea that someone can define family to just [the] nuclear—your parents, your siblings—is pretty outrageous to me, because I was raised by my grandparents, because my cousins are like brothers to me.… This administration is redefining what a family is.”
For millions of uncles, aunts, grandparents, nieces, and nephews, America is now off-limits. They’ll miss weddings, births, funerals, parties, and key moments of their loved ones’ lives. It’s important to hear stories like those of Jafari and Issa, as the effects are far too personal and significant to get lost in headlines and political battlefields. It could easily be any of our weddings, and any of our families.
UPDATE: As of Monday, July 17, the State Department issued new guidelines for the ban in order to comply with the ruling by a federal judge in Hawaii that stated the Trump administration’s definition of “close family” was too narrow. Grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, and cousins are also to be included in the definition of “close familial relationship.”