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Ana took a break from her warehouse job, which has been focused on getting gloves, sanitizer, and cleaning supplies to hospitals because of the coronavirus pandemic, to read the latest on Trump’s order suspending immigration to the US.
The 27-year-old was immediately flooded with feelings of sadness, anger, and most of all, hopelessness. For the next 60 days, people like her parents, whom she had been trying to get visas for, would be banned from obtaining green cards. Ana declined to use her full name out of fear that she could endanger their application.
The order Trump signed on Wednesday doesn’t have much of an impact at the moment because the State Department has already suspended routine visa services at embassies and consulates across the world due to the coronavirus pandemic. The fear among people like Ana is that the proclamation will be extended even after the State Department starts processing visa services and her parents will be left behind.
“It’s not so much the money we’ve spent, but the time you have to wait and there are others who have waited longer than us,” Ana told BuzzFeed News. “I feel so desperate and hopeless now. I just want my parents here with me.”
Ana, a US-born citizen who grew up in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo while waking up at 5 a.m. to go to school in the United States, moved to Houston five years ago so her children wouldn’t have to go through the same ordeal.
She applied for her parents’ green cards in 2017. In addition to wanting her parents near her, Ana was concerned about the violence in Nuevo Laredo where her parents live, particularly the gunfights between cartels and Mexican authorities. About a month ago, bullets struck the outside of her parents’ home.
For 60 days, Trump’s proclamation suspends access to green cards for family members of permanent residents who are outside of the United States, parents and siblings of US citizens abroad, and thousands of people who come to the country as part of the diversity visa lottery system.
The order, which may also be extended, doesn’t affect people coming to the country temporarily or to minor children or spouses of citizens who are outside of the US and applying for green cards. Nor does it apply to those who had the visas before Wednesday.
The policy also carved out exceptions for some specialized workers, like nurses or doctors, as well as foreign investors who spend money in the US and apply for green cards.
As the news of the proclamation started to spread, immigrants in the US and abroad wondered if they would be affected.
Mana Yegani, an immigration attorney in Houston, said she spent Wednesday telling green card applicants in the US that they would not have to leave the country. She played the role of a counselor, not just a lawyer, to calm people’s nerves, she added.
“Clients are worried. They call and want answers. The amount of strength it takes for me to calm their nerves is a lot just because I don’t know what the president will do in 30 days,” she said. “Section 6 of the [executive order] keeps matters open-ended that more changes and suspensions are forthcoming. It’s truly stressful. Very hard to explain the huge amount of stress and anxiety.”
Still, Yegani noted that her clients’ “love” of the American dream has not faded.
“They have faith in the American dream. I have several clients who are American citizens who have filed for green cards for their parents. They are going through the legal process, which the government encourages everyone to do.”
Charles Kuck, an immigration attorney in Atlanta, said he heard from those in the corporate world immediately.
“A wide variety of clients, from senior HR directors of multinational companies, to US citizens with applications pending for their parents, to humble people asking if their case asking for a victim of crime visa, are all asking the same question — how does this proclamation impact me and my employees?” Kuck said. “The biggest thing for me, as an immigration lawyer, is to help people to understand that every case is different in how it is affected, and to walk that person through their concern. And, occasionally answer the existential question — why would Trump do this now?”
Maria, a 37-year-old US citizen living in Georgia, petitioned for her parents’ green cards last year and was hoping they would be with her at the beginning of 2021. But that timeline has been put on hold following the proclamation.
Maria, who declined to use her full name for fear that speaking about the green card applications will affect their chances of coming to the US, said it’s particularly hard because of the instability in Venezuela where her parents live. The country’s economic crisis has resulted in shortages of food, water, and basic medical supplies that’s also led to violent protests — a situation made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everything there is fragile… I worry that something is going to happen and we’ll never see them again,” Maria told BuzzFeed News. “Everything has been so unstable, not only with the virus, but the entire situation in Venezuela.”
When Trump tweeted Monday night that he was going to ban immigration to the US in response to COVID-19, Maria and her sister, who is also in the United States, waited to tell their parents, who are retired. When the sisters eventually told them, their parents said they would all have to be patient and ride it out.
Maria, an executive at a software company, hopes the ban will be removed soon and her parents’ application can move forward, though she worries the proclamation will be extended for an indefinite amount of time.
“I wish we had more clarity, even if we were told it was going to take X number of days, months, or even years,” Maria said. “Not knowing what’s coming is the hardest part.”