An Iranian man with Stage 3 cancer may die if he is unable to come to the United States to receive medical care, due to President Donald Trump’s repeated efforts to ban travel from several Muslim-majority countries.
Last July, Hossein Barati, an Iranian citizen was denied a B-2 visitor’s visa to the United States to undergo medical treatment for Stage III mixed germ cell cancer. A CT scan revealed seven cancerous lung nodules for which he received six months of chemotherapy. But the tumor didn’t respond well to chemotherapy. His cancer has spread to his hips and abdomen.
Doctors in both Iran and the United States say Barati needs proper care and advised him that CyberKnife, a form of radiosurgery that uses computer technology to deliver radiation to affected areas with “unprecedented precision,” could be the only effective treatment to help him live. CyberKnife is unavailable in Iran because of sanctions.
At the time Barati’s first visa was denied, Trump’s second version of the Muslim travel ban was in place — an executive order temporarily banning all refugees and nationals from six Muslim majority-countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen). The Supreme Court ruled in June that those wishing to travel to the United States would be allowed entry with “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” Since Barati has a U.S. citizen brother, he could have been admitted. He was not, likely in part because confusion at U.S. embassies sowed unequal implementation of the second ban at various U.S. Embassies and Consulates.
Barati’s lawyers have since applied for him to enter the United States again on the same visa, arguing that the newest travel ban, Presidential Proclamation 9645 signed in September, has a section that provides the government to grant a waiver as long as individuals can demonstrate that: denial of entry would cause them undue hardship; their entry would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States; and their entry would be in the national interest. This ban is currently still in place.
Barati has an interview at the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey scheduled for Tuesday, January 16. But his lawyers are worried that his case will be rejected, a trend that attorneys for other people applying for waivers under the ban have also noticed with automatic denials at U.S. embassies.
“I think there’s a lot of confusion about… how this is being implemented,” Sirine Shebaya, Barati’s lawyer at Muslim Advocates, told ThinkProgress in a phone interview this week. She said the administration hasn’t really provided information for advocates or lawyers to know how to access the waiver process.
“As lawyers, we’re flying a little bit blind, but we’re working to put together waiver applications for people who need them, like Mr. Barati,” Shebaya added. “He’s not trying to come here as an immigrant. He’s just trying to come here for this cancer treatment and he’ll return home to his wife and son. But because of the current situation and because of the travel ban that’s in effect, he’s uncertain about his abilities to get here.”
Shebaya’s letter to request a waiver for Barati reveals essentially the perfect candidate for a waiver. He could suffer “undue hardship” because he needs urgent medical care and would have a U.S. citizen brother to stay with as he recovers. She pointed out that there’s precedence in the Board of Immigration Appeals that assesses undue hardship due to significant health conditions, especially when it relates to the “unavailability of suitable medical care in the [other] country.”
Although this kind of medical treatment is likely available in Europe, Shebaya said, Barati’s brother who lives in California can take care of him and “help him connect with relevant doctors, get treatment, [and] stay” with him at Stanford — the place where the Cyberknife treatment was developed — while he’s undergoing a traumatic experience.
Trump has long claimed the necessity of a ban from several countries to protect the nation’s security. The countries have changed slightly in every version — the latest one targets nationals of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — but every version displays an overt intent to target Muslim-majority countries.
As Shebaya insisted, Barati offers a compelling look of the kind of people that the U.S. government flags as national security threats.
If Barati’s visa gets rejected again, he may not have much time left to live. He also wouldn’t be the only medical patient denied entry on national security concerns. In December, the U.S. State Department rejected a visa waiver for a diabetic Yemeni man hoping to receive treatment in the United States on grounds that his entry could pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States.
“It’s a bit of a black hole, but I think it impacts people in a really dramatic way,” Shebaya said. “And we’re feeling really unsure what’s going to happen. If anyone should qualify for a waiver, it’s someone like this.”