Monday July 9, 2018
Pamela Raghebi said she feels like the government has divorced her.
Mojan Payriz (left) and her husband, Christian Bennignus, joined thousands at a protest of Trump’s executive orders at Sea-Tac airport. (Photo by Venice Buhain/ Seattle Globalist)
SEATTLE (AP) — Pamela Raghebi said she feels like the government has divorced her.
The 73-year-old retiree, a native Washingtonian, lives in
a Northgate condominium. Her husband, Afshin Raghebi, who is from Iran,
is stuck in Turkey, waiting for a visa to rejoin her.
The Supreme Court recent ruling upholding President
Donald Trump's travel ban on citizens of seven countries, including
Iran, offers little hope of that happening any time soon.
"I'm gobsmacked," said Pamela Raghebi, minutes after receiving texts about the ruling from family members.
"I don't want to go live in another country, but if
that's what it takes to be together, that's what I'll probably end up
She didn't know where or how. Her husband left Iran about
20 years ago, disillusioned with its Muslim leaders and on his way to
becoming a Christian. Because of his change of religion, he said, "I am
afraid to go back."
He is now applying for a visa in Turkey that would last just one year.
The Raghebis are among many in the U.S. who have been
separated by the travel ban. A previous iteration carved out an
exception for citizens of affected countries who had a "bona fide
relationship" with people or entities in the U.S. Not so "travel ban
3.0," as some refer to the latest version.
Those with such a relationship must apply for a waiver to
the ban. Government officials are supposed to apply a three-part test
to determine whether the ban creates an "undue hardship," whether a
waiver would be in the national interest and whether the person seeking
it poses a security risk.
"What's on paper is not what's in reality," said Karol
Brown, a Bellevue attorney representing the Raghebis. Waivers are hard
to get, even when individuals would seem to easily meet the criteria,
Brown, like other local attorneys, also represents
members of Washington's large Somali community who are trying to bring
over relatives. Somali citizens are also affected by the ban.
One Somali woman whom Brown represents has applied for a
waiver for her son, now in a Kenyan refugee camp. His dad, with whom he
had been living, recently died.
"He's 7. I can't imagine he's a huge security risk,"
Brown said. Because his mother is a U.S. citizen, the boy would become
one "the minute he steps onto U.S. soil," she said.
They have been waiting for a waiver for three months, Brown said.
Seattle attorney Jay Gairson, who has about 150 clients
applying for waivers, said he also has found waits to be long and actual
He represents the 18-year-old son of a local Somali woman
who is a legal permanent resident. The teen lives in an Ethiopian
refugee camp and has never been to Somalia, according to Gairson.
The lawyer said the son was told, without explanation, "No waiver is available at this time."
"I'm suing over this one," Gairson said, contemplating options in light of the Supreme Court ruling.
For the Raghebis, the separation induced by the travel ban was tied up with Afshin's immigration status.
The 50-year-old entered the country illegally from Canada
in 2006, sneaking across the border on foot in the middle of the night.
He had previously applied for asylum in Canada and Sweden, where he
first went after leaving Iran, but was turned down. A friend suggested
he try his luck in the U.S., he said, speaking by phone from Antalya,
He wanted to apply for asylum here but thought better of
it after pleading guilty to reckless driving in 2010, he said. His
lawyer at the time advised him that the conviction might result not only
in denial but deportation.
He also met Pamela that year. He worked for a company
that was replacing windows at the Madison Park retirement community
where she worked as a receptionist.
"He was so friendly and personable," she recalled. "I quietly asked one of the younger workers: 'Is that guy married?'"
He wasn't. She had long been divorced and had two adult sons.
Word of her interest got back to him, and he asked her out. Four months later, "we were eloping," she said.
She knew he was undocumented. "This was something I thought we could work out together," she said.
After their marriage, Pamela asked the government to
grant her husband a green card, saying she needed him here due to a
variety of health conditions, including neuralgia, which causes pain in
The government approved her petition, according to Brown.
But a final step, because he had entered illegally, required him to
leave the country.
He needed two waivers — the first to prevent the usual
10-year-ban on re-entering the U.S. that kicks in for those who have
lived here illegally. He got that.
Otherwise, Brown said, "I wouldn't have let him leave."
Even with it, the Raghebis knew Afshin's leaving was a
risk. The second waiver he needed was for the travel ban, in effect when
Afshin flew to Abu Dhabi for an interview at the American embassy in
They were both eager for Afshin to be an American, Pamela
said, explaining their decision. Without a Social Security card, Afshin
can't hire people or get insurance for the glass business they now own
On April 18, shortly after his interview, Afshin received
a letter from the embassy saying his eligibility for a waiver was under
consideration. "This can be a lengthy process," it said, and until
resolved his visa application would be denied.
He stayed in Abu Dhabi until his one-month visa ran out,
then went to Turkey, where he could stay three months without a visa.
That time is now running out, and he has rented a house in order to
qualify for a one-year visa.
"I didn't think it would take this long," he said of the waiver process.
A couple of weeks ago, Pamela flew to Turkey for Afshin's
50th birthday. She said she hoped the waiver might be ready in time and
they could fly back together.
She cried the whole time, Afshin said. "I just told her, 'Be strong. This is going to take time.'"