Olivia Cross thought she’d be celebrating her third wedding anniversary talking to her husband over Skype. Yahya Abedi, the Iranian man she was planning to build a life with, was 7,000 miles away, blocked from joining his American wife because of President Trump’s travel ban.
Instead, they celebrated together in Michigan, three years to the day after they said, “I do.” The Post profiled the couple in late January in an article about the travel ban and its impact on marriages. Nine days after the piece published, Abedi received word from U.S. officials that he had been approved for a waiver to the ban.
The couple had nearly given up hope on the right to a life together in the United States, but that saga is behind them. They are now dealing with more mundane problems; Abedi is looking for a job in his new country, and Cross, who was worried her dog Meatball wouldn’t accept a new man into the family, is now concerned that the pug prefers her husband over her.
We were at the airport in Detroit when Abedi arrived on Feb. 22 and, a few weeks later, had the chance to catch up with them at the University of Michigan, where Cross is studying to become a doctor.
Their happy ending, which you can watch in the video above, is a sweet addendum to an otherwise bitter story. (Really, watch the video until the end.)
When The Post published our reporting on how the president’s travel ban was affecting the lives and relationships of Americans married to citizens from Iran, the response was astonishing.
Nearly 800 letters from couples mired in the same administrative purgatory flooded our reader platform. Many of the letters were from Iranians, but there were also stories from people in the other countries affected by the executive order that Trump says is protecting the United States from foreign terrorists.
We began researching the subject after the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s travel ban last year, and we knew there were many couples affected by the policy, because we had heard from several of them. They were searching for clarity on a process so confusing that many immigration lawyers didn’t know what to advise their clients. Who qualified for a waiver? Who didn’t? How long would “administrative processing” take after a couple had proven their love to an immigration official?
At the time, very few of the couples were willing to speak to us publicly. Their concerns were reasonable: They feared retribution from the Iranian government that sees any contact with people in the United States as suspect. But they also were worried that U.S. authorities might prolong their wait times as indirect punishment for creating awareness of the problem.
There were too many of them to ignore, though, so we began connecting with the couples whose cases we could verify and who were willing to talk on the record.
We found Cross and Abedi, as well as another couple, Ricky Smith and Mona Khorasani. Smith, who lives in Milwaukee, and Khorasani, an Iranian working in Toronto, are further behind in their application process. They received so much conflicting advice from lawyers that they held off on applying for a U.S. visa because they didn’t want to blow their one chance.
After The Post’s report was published, Abedi sent links to the video featuring him and Cross to the U.S. Consulate in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. A little more than a week later, after spending a year and a half in administrative processing, Abedi told us his dream had come true.
The State Department does not make public how many visa applications it has received from the affected countries, but it does report how many have been rejected.
In 2018, the State Department rejected about 37,000 visa applications from travel-ban countries. Fewer than 1,000 were rejected in 2017, when the policy had not taken full effect. Hardest hit are the Muslim-majority countries on the ban — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The impact is minimal on North Korea and Venezuela, two countries the Trump administration added after it was accused of discrimination according to religion. The administration has denied targeting Muslims.
The Supreme Court upheld the ban in part because the administration said it would grant waivers to people from the affected countries who face “undue hardship” and pose no security threat.
The State Department issued less than 3,000 such waivers between Dec. 8, 2017, when the U.S. began fully implementing the ban, and Jan. 31.
Stories of hardship continue to fill our email inboxes, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Telegram accounts. Since Abedi received his visa, the fear of going public has melted away. We’ve been receiving videos and voicemails and copies of medical records from fertility doctors warning that women will miss their opportunity to have children because of the ban.
Meanwhile, Cross and Abedi are experiencing a kind of survivors’ guilt, and Abedi is still counseling people stuck in administrative limbo. He is also taking in what it means to be a legal U.S. resident, with a clear path toward citizenship. “The media in Iran tells us a lot of terrible things about this country, but never any of the good ones,” Abedi said.
Asked what has surprised him most about the United States and how he has been treated by the Americans he’s met so far, he has only one word: “Respect.”
Abedi hopes other people such as him, waiting to reunite with their loved ones, will have the opportunity to experience it for themselves.
Watch the story that started it all: