Six teenage girls from Afghanistan have been denied visas to travel to the United States in order to compete in an international robotics competition. The team’s robot, however, was allowed into the US for the competition.
Without explanation, the US Department of State denied the girls entry visas, even though Afghanistan is not one of the six Muslim-majority countries officially banned by President Donald Trump’s executive order.
Portions of Trump’s travel ban went into effect last Thursday, three days after the Supreme Court agreed to review the case this fall and temporarily lifted suspensions of the ban put in place by lower courts. The court did grant exceptions to people with “bona fide relationships” in the US, according to The New York Times, but failed to clearly explain the meaning of “bona fide relationship.”
According to Forbes, the team traveled 500 miles to the American Embassy in Kabul, twice, to be interviewed but were still denied. Afghanistan and Gambia were the only two countries whose teams were denied the necessary travel visas.
Members of teams from Iraq, Iran, and Sudan—three of the six countries included in the ban—however, have been granted permission to travel to Washington, DC in July to participate.
“We still don’t know the reason why we were not granted visas, because other countries participating in the competition have been given visas,” said 14-year-old team member Fatemah Qaderyan.
Asked by Reuters why the girls were banned, a US State Department spokesperson on Tuesday cited regulations prohibiting the agency from discussing individual visa cases.
The girls will, instead, have to watch their ball-sorting robot compete in the contest in Washington DC from 7,000 miles away in their hometown of Herat, Afghanistan.
Roya Mahboob, the country’s first female tech CEO, brought the group of girls together for the project. She said when they first heard the bad news, “they were crying all the day.”
FIRST Global’s president, and former congressman, Joe Sestak, said in a post on Facebook that he was “saddened” by the US government’s decision but said Team Afghanistan would be able to connect via a live Skype video link. “That is how we must now honor our fellow teammates, those brave girls from Afghanistan,” he said on Facebook.
Speaking through a translator, Fatemah told Forbes, “we want to show the world we can do it, we just need a chance.”
– Danielle Bizzarro