Thanks to President Donald Trump’s urging, U.S. officials have reversed course and will allow an all-girls Afghanistan robotics team into the country for a competition next week.
The issue garnered a lot of backlash when it was first learned that six teenage girls had been denied U.S. visas to participate in next week’s FIRST Global Challenge, an international robotics competition in Washington, D.C., that will include participants from about 160 countries, according to Politico.
So when the White House heard about the issue, Trump decided to step in and take action. The president asked officials with the National Security Council to assist in the matter.
As a result, the NSC consulted the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, which ultimately granted the girls entry into the U.S. on a temporary “parole” status, meaning they can remain in the country for 10 days without an official visa as long as there is a public benefit to their visit.
“The State Department worked incredibly well with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that this case was reviewed and handled appropriately,” Dina Powell, Trump’s deputy national security adviser for strategy, said in a statement. “We could not be prouder of this delegation of young women who are also scientists — they represent the best of the Afghan people and embody the promise that their aspirations can be fulfilled.
“They are future leaders of Afghanistan and strong ambassadors for their country,” she added.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the federal agency could not comment on why the teenagers’ visa applications were denied because that information is confidential under U.S. law. Afghanistan, it should be noted, is not included in Trump’s controversial travel ban, which temporarily blocks travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries.
However, Afghans are often rejected for U.S. entry because there is a concern they will overstay their visas and refuse to go back home. Regardless, Nauert said she is happy to have this team of Afghan competitors in the country.
“We are very happy to have these young girls be able to come here to the United States to participate in this robotics competition,” she said.
And Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, took to Twitter earlier this week to praise her father’s effort in allowing the Afghan teens into the United States for the science competition.
FIRST Global President Joe Sestak told CNN the girls were contacted a few days ago by the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan and informed of the alternative plan to get them into the country. Sestak described the State Department as a “star player” in the entire ordeal.
The six girls, who are from western Afghanistan, reportedly struggled through a lot of red tape in order to build a ball-sorting robot for the challenge. And when it came time to apply for their visas — which the girls did twice — they traveled hundreds of miles to Kabul, but were denied both times.
Before Trump stepped in to help, the competition’s organizers had arranged for a group of Afghan-American students living in the U.S. to operate the Afghan team’s robot, which is already in the country, while the Middle Eastern teenagers watched via Skype.
According to FIRST Global, a team from Gambia has also been granted special approval to travel to the U.S. after first being denied visas.