A young Yemeni couple living 9,000 miles apart fear that President Donald Trump's updated travel ban will put an end to their dreams. And all because their pending final visa interview has yet to be scheduled.
Unfortunately for the couple, this Thursday is when the new restrictions come into effect.
Nagi Ali, 22, is an American citizen from Yemen while Arwa al-Abili, 19, is a Yemeni citizen who's now waiting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to be reunited with her fiancé.
The couple had already gone through the entire process for her to obtain a visa, The Guardian reports. They completed the paperwork, provided the necessary documentation, and had even gone through the required security screening. But once Trump won the 2016 election, something changed.
“It’s like you’re holding water, and you’re hoping it won’t all slip through your fingers before it’s too late,” Ali told reporters.
They first met in 2011 in the Yemeni province of Ibb. Ali had been visiting family when he asked Abili for directions. On that day, Ali experienced love at first sight — and he wasn't going to let her go.
“She was the only one on my mind since,” he said while cracking a smile.
Saying his fiancée “wants to be someone” and “help other people,” Ali explained that in August of 2016, he proposed to Abili.
After coming back to America and working late nights and early mornings as an Uber driver, Ali had cobbled the funds necessary to find an immigration lawyer. By October, he had applied for a K-1 fiancée visa.
If she were granted the visa, Abili would be allowed to enter the country for 90 days — just enough time for them to marry so that they could file an application for her residency.
The couple was so hopeful this plan was going to work that Ali even placed a deposit on the venue for their ceremony, hoping to plan a wedding that would welcome 100 guests in a hall in south Brooklyn. But just days after Ali sent the petition to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Trump was elected president.
His fiancée was in shock when she called, telling him to come to Malaysia so they could live together. “Just come here to me. I don’t want a lot from you, I just want to be around you. We can live in Kuala Lumpur for the rest of our lives,” she told him in the frantic conversation. But Ali didn't give up.
As the second travel ban is expected to kick in, barring immigrants from Yemen as well as five other countries from the Middle East, they panicked.
If her approval doesn't arrive before March 16, Abili may never make it to America since Trump's orders allow for the 90-day suspension of visa emissions to last indefinitely.
And even if the ban does not halt the interview proceedings, The Guardian reports, the Yemeni couple's petition is only valid until June 12 — two days before the travel ban expires in theory. If this happens, all the hard work they put into this process will be worth nothing and they will have to start everything from scratch.
On March 9, an email sent to the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur showed that officials hadn't received Abili's case file, asking their New York lawyer, Mohammad Saleem, to check again in two weeks.
Saleem told The Guardian that an interview could still be scheduled even if the petition hadn't arrived yet but that now, this seems unlikely.
“I can’t promise him anything and it has cast a big dark cloud over their future,” Saleem told reporters.
Ali, who wants to become an NYPD officer, says he wants to encourage his fiancée to apply to an American college where she can study dentistry. The idea of letting her go back to war-torn Yemen is just too soul-crushing for him to even consider.
“It’s too hard to believe you’re going to have to give up on your dream,” he said. “But we have to respect [Trump] and his order. We will wait for justice.”
Asked what he would tell the president if he had a chance, this is what he replied:
“I would speak to him in a calm way for him to understand that the Muslim community is peaceful. If you ever had a chance to visit us you would see so many beautiful things.”
We hope Ali and Abili make it. But if they don't, let this be yet another example of why basing a policy on prejudice and misconceptions hurts the very people who are deserving of a second chance — not terrorists.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Ilya Naymushin