Even as he defiantly moves to unilaterally grant legal status to millions of people inside the U.S. illegally, President Obama’s State Department is making sure that such special favors are not meant for everyone. The State Department’s unexplained refusal to extend a valid P1 visa currently held by an Israeli basketball player has prevented the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Indiana Pacers from signing him.
Gal Mekel’s waiver from the Dallas Mavericks was part of a deal to free up space on the Mavericks while helping the Pacers sign a desperately needed point guard for their injury-ravaged roster.
ESPN.com reported that Mekel was flown to Boston to meet up with the Pacers last Wednesday, but Indiana was forced to back out of the deal after the State Department refused to renew his visa.
The NBA granted the injury-depleted Pacers a hardship exemption that allowed them to sign a 16th player through last Thursday. When the State Department refused to move up the expiration date on Mekel’s visa even by one day, the Pacers, who had only 9 players on their active roster, backed out of the deal to sign another player before their waiver lapsed.
The Pacers were desperate to sign the Israeli star because only one of their five guards was able to play. Four of the five are injured.
Normally, visas for foreign-born players in the NBA are automatically transferable with the players to whom they are issued. More than 100 foreign-born players are currently in the NBA. This is the first instance many basketball analysts can recall where a foreign-born player was prevented from signing with a new NBA team because a visa could not be transferred.
Indiana wanted the 26-year-old Israeli shooting guard after his impressive start in Dallas, which included 19 points and 9 assists against the Pacers in Indianapolis on October 18.
Mekel was one of two Israelis in the NBA; the other is Omri Caspi of the Sacramento Kings.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration’s severe crackdown on the number of Israeli tourists it permitted to visit the United States provoked bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill. New York Senator Charles Schumer led the charge against unprovoked restrictions, publicly accusing the Obama administration of “punishing” one of America’s closest allies by arbitrarily denying “tourist visas to all young Israelis” of military age.
Meanwhile, in Beijing on a state visit to China, President Obama announced Monday he was using his executive authority to unilaterally double the number of visas granted to Chinese students and would extend the duration of tourist visas to ten years.