On July 29, Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) became the first member of Congress to formally call on the Obama administration to ban travel from the three countries in West Africa experiencing Ebola outbreaks.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson dated July 29, Grayson stated, “I write to request the imposition of a travel ban on the citizens of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and any foreign person who has visited one of these nations 90 days prior to arriving in the United States.”
But both the State Department and Homeland Security ignored his request. Instead, on August 15, Homeland Security’s United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced the implementation of a new policy, “Ebola Outbreak-related Immigration Relief Measures to Nationals of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone Currently in the United States,” that made it easier for citizens of these countries with visas to extend their stay in the United States, as Breitbart News reported on Friday.
Specifically, the USCIS stated it would begin “[e]xpedited processing of immigrant petitions for immediate relatives (currently in the United States) of U.S. citizens” who were living in or citizens of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leonne, the three countries in West Africa experiencing outbreaks of Ebola.
The August 15 USCIS announcement came a little more than a month after Leon Rodriguez, a protege of Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Attorney General Eric Holder, was sworn in as the new Director of the USCIS.
On August 17, Edward Neufville III, a Liberian-born U.S. immigration attorney who competed for Liberia in the 1996 Olympics, posted on his law firm’s website his interpretation of the new USCIS policies, which included one element not seen in the August 15 USCIS press release:
When requested, the following options may be available to nationals of those countries: … 9. General Expedited Processing: In general, if you need USCIS to consider a request for a service or benefit more quickly, you may make that request when filing or after you file the application.
Breitbart News contacted Neufville to elaborate on whether this “general expedited processing” also applies to Liberian nationals who are not currently in the United States but are in Liberia.
Breitbart News also asked Neufville (1) if the August 15 USCIS policy announcement led to an increase in the issuance of visas for Liberian nationals not in the U.S., and (2) if the September issuance of a visa to Thomas Eric Duncan (Ebola patient zero in the U.S.) was a part of such an increase.
In an exclusive statement to Breitbart News, Neufville said, “I have not researched if there has been an increase in the application for U.S. visas by Liberian nationals. If so, there could be many reasons, such [as] Liberian parents of minor U.S. citizen children. Secondly, the U.S. remains the country that many Liberians choose to visit and have a close affinity to.”
“To determine if Thomas Duncan visa issuance was indeed part of [any] increase, you would have to look at the reasons his previous visa applications were denied and when he did indeed apply for this successful visa,” Neufville added.
The Department of Homeland Security has not provided any data on the number of visas it has issued to citizens of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, by month, in 2014.
On October 5, the Washington Post reported that Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian citizen who became patient zero in the transport of Ebola to the United States and died at Texas Presbyterian Hospital on October 8, had hoped to obtain a visa in June to attend his son’s graduation from a Dallas high school.
Instead, Duncan obtained a visa in September, more than a month after Grayson first requested a travel ban. Duncan arrived in the United States on September 20, after first taking a flight from Monrovia, Liberia to Belgium, then flying from Belgium to Dulles Airport before terminating his trip in Dallas.
Breitbart News asked immigration attorney Neuvfille if he thought the August 15 USCIS statement influenced in any way the subsequent issue of a visa to Thomas Eric Duncan.
In an October 8 letter to President Obama, twenty-three Republican and three Democratic members of the House, including Grayson, called on the President to institute a travel ban.
“[W]e ask the State Department to impose a travel ban and restrict travel visas issued to citizens of the West African countries experiencing this epidemic, until such countries have defeated the epidemic,” they wrote.” Such a ban should be instituted by suspending earlier-issued visas until further notice, halting the issue of such visas, and denying entry to the nationals of such countries upon presentation of a passport from those countries at our ports of entry.”
“We note,”the letter continued, “that Congressman Grayson made this request to your administration in July, and that 27 African countries already have taken such action to protect their own citizens, but the United States inexplicably has not.”
Representatives Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA) were the only House Democrats to join Grayson as signators on the letter.
You can read the full October 8 letter here:
You can read Grayson’s July 29 letter here: