Dressed in a white button-down and black slacks and holding a bouquet of red roses, Ramez Alghazzouli waited anxiously at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for his wife to arrive.
It was the evening of Sept. 7, and the 30-year-old business analyst had waited three years for this moment. He and Asmaa Khadem Al Arbaiin, both originally from Syria, were married in 2016, but they’d spent much of the intervening time forcibly separated, due to President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries.
For years, Alghazzouli pleaded with the U.S. government to grant a visa to Al Arbaiin, who was stranded in Turkey ― but to no avail. HuffPost reported on the couple’s plight in June of this year. Not long after, Alghazzouli received a life-changing email: His wife’s visa application was approved. Two months later, Al Arbaiin was on a plane to America.
It’s rare for someone in Al Arbaiin’s position to see their visa go through, and potential policy changes could make it rarer still. Just last week, the White House announced it was considering cutting refugee admissions in half. In 2018, the U.S. State Department rejected more than 37,000 visa applications due to the travel ban, which has separated families and torn apart even couples who work for the highest levels of government.
“I was shocked. I told myself, OK, wait, OK. Am I dreaming?” Al Arbaiin told HuffPost from her new home in Tempe, Arizona. “I had to look at myself in the mirror and say, OK, this is actually happening.”
It wasn’t until Al Arbaiin had the visa in her hand that it hit her ― she had overcome the Muslim ban and was finally going to reunite with her husband. Even when she was on the plane, Al Arbaiin kept checking her passport to make sure it was in there. She was still in disbelief.
“Because what we went through, I always told my wife, you’re not here unless you’re here,” Alghazzouli said.
There is no way to know for sure what caused Al Arbaiin’s visa to finally be approved, but she and her husband both say they believe HuffPost’s reporting in June helped set the wheels in motion. Alghazzouli said he was grateful for the media coverage and public support, lamenting that most families affected by the ban don’t see updates in their cases without political intercession or heavy press coverage. Last year, for example, a Yemeni mother was granted a visa to see her dying son after public outrage from advocates and media outlets.
Due to the State Department’s inconsistency and lack of transparency in granting visas, there is no definitive way to track visa application approvals and rejections. Human rights advocates and experts have decried Washington’s erratic approach as a “mockery of the rule of law” and “a sham.” In Alghazzouli’s case, the Syrian-American resident said he only saw updates in his case after HuffPost’s earlier coverage, without any direct action on his part.
That evening in the Arizona airport, Alghazzouli spotted a woman in a white hijab and blue jeans exiting the terminal. He immediately recognized his wife.
“Hoby,” he said ― “my love,” in Arabic. “Come here.”
Al Arbaiin embraced her husband, tears running down her face. After traveling by air from Turkey to Germany to Washington, D.C., she was now finally in Arizona. The pair stood there for a moment in a tight embrace before Alghazzouli handed the roses to his wife.
“I’ve missed you,” he said as he guided her out of the airport, excited to go home, not alone this time. The fight was finally over.