Mark Hetfield

HIAS: Jewish Families Caught by Entry Ban

(JTA) — The U.S. temporary ban on issuing entry visas citizens of seven predominantly-Muslim countries has affected several Jewish families, according to HIAS,  a global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees.

The 90-day ban, which came Friday in an executive order signed by President Donald Trump, has plunged into further uncertainty the lives of a Jewish Iranian man in his late 20s and his middle-aged mother who for the past year have been waiting in an unnamed country for a reply on their application for asylum in the United States, the CEO of HIAS,  Mark Hetfield, told JTA Sunday.

Citing privacy issues and a desire not to further complicate the application process by revealing specific information about it to the press, Hetfield declined to name the applicants or reveal their whereabouts. The man and his mother, he said, are trying to reunite with two of the mother’s daughters who are already in the United States.

Last year, HIAS handled 169 applications by Iranian Jews for asylum in the United States.

Founded in 1881 originally to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, HIAS — whose name is an acronym of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – was recognized in 1976 by the Justice Department as an agency authorized to assist immigration. It has hundreds of staff and is active in over 30 countries, processing more than 4,000 applications annually – predominantly for non-Jews.

HIAS applicants from the Middle East who are vetted and screened – a process which may take as long as two years – often travel to the United States through Ukraine or Austria if they have a visa.

HIAS is among several American Jewish groups that have protested the ban.

“The ban affects hundreds of our clients, for whom it may be the difference between life and death,” Hetfield said.

He cited a case involving a non-Jewish family of asylum seekers from Syria who, despite having obtained on Jan. 20 visas to enter the United States as refugees following a Homeland Security Department vetting, were turned back in Ukraine to their camp in Jordan on Jan. 27. Citing Trump’s order, airline officials did not let the family, consisting of a mother and daughters ages 5 and 8, fly to the United States.

The mother and her daughters, who are seeking to reunite with the father of the family, who is already in the United States, were let back into Jordan “but in such cases, there is a risk that people who leave to become refugees in the United States will not be let back in, or worse,”  Hetfield said.

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HIAS: Jewish Families Caught by Entry Ban

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