A coalition of immigration advocates is suing the Biden administration over a Trump-era policy that froze visa issuance in 35 different countries in the name of COVID-19.
Former President Trump signed a number of orders during the early days of the pandemic barring the issuance of visas for both travel and immigration purposes. President Biden expanded on the concept, signing a similar order within the first few days of his administration.
“Due to Defendants’ unlawful refusal to issue visas to individuals in these countries, the plaintiffs are subject to a total, inescapable ban on receiving their visas, or even having these visas adjudicated,” lawyers wrote in their brief.
The case was brought on behalf of nearly 200 different plaintiffs, including those seeking to come to the U.S. to work or join family members, by a number of immigration lawyers and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The State Department, which is named in the case, declined to comment on the case while the White House did not respond to request for comment.
Counties have been added to the list through a series of six different presidential proclamations, five of them signed under Trump.
“Given the importance of protecting persons within the United States from the threat of this harmful communicable disease, I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to take action to restrict and suspend the entry into the United States,” Trump wrote in his first order in February of last year restricting entry of Chinese citizens.
Iran, 26 European countries, and Brazil and South Africa were covered by subsequent presidential proclamations.
Lawyers argue the freeze on visa processing is stalling applicants’ lives.
“Family members remain separated indefinitely,” they wrote, while those seeking K visas to marry a U.S. citizen have been forced to delay their weddings.
“Many are eager to start families, and some worry that they are facing declining fertility due to the prolonged delay.”
The suit comes as Biden has otherwise pushed for massive immigration reform, pushing Congress to pass an immigration package that would provide a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million people already in the U.S. while expanding a number of other immigration caps.
Biden recently allowed a separate Trump-era order to expire that restricted certain work and research-related visas.
That policy barred those seeking to come to the U.S. under a number of visa categories from entering the country, arguing that the impact of COVID-19 on the economy required limiting foreign workers.