US officials have decided to allow a group of Afghan girls – whose visa applications had been rejected twice – to travel to the United States and participate in an international robotics competition, ending a saga that had sparked an international backlash.
Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said the US Citizenship and Immigration Services approved a Department of State request for six girls from the war-torn country to be allowed in, along with their chaperone, so they can participate in the competition.
The non-profit organising the competition celebrated the reversal in a statement on Wednesday.
“I truly believe our greatest power is the power to convene nations, to bring people together in the pursuit of a common goal and prove that our similarities greatly outweigh our differences,” said Joe Sestak, the president of First Global.
He credited “the professional leadership of the US State Department” for ensuring that all 163 teams from 157 countries, including a team of Syrian refugees, would be able to participate.
The US Department of State had declined to comment on why the Afghan team’s visa applications were initially denied, saying that “all visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis in accordance with US law.”
A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Trump raised the issue with his national security adviser, HR General McMaster, during his trip to Germany last week for the Group of 20 summit, and had asked for additional options.
The State Department and Department of Homeland Security came up with the idea of “paroling” the girls.
Parole is a temporary status in which a person who is otherwise ineligible to enter the country is allowed in temporarily because of an emergency or humanitarian purpose, or because it’s deemed to be in the public good.
Without the reversal, the girls would have had to watch via video link from their hometown in western Afghanistan.