In December, Sharifa walked out of the US embassy in Djibouti triumphant. In her hands, she clutched a slip of paper that said her visa had finally been approved. She and her four children would be in America by New Years, she thought. She just needed to wait for her visa to be printed; after years of war in Yemen, her family would be safe together. “I love my country, but the situation there forced me to flee. I just couldn’t risk the lives of my children,” she said.
Her kids are American citizens like their father, Mohsen, who works at a grocery store in Alabama to earn money for them. The years of separation and the costs of traveling to Djibouti—navigating checkpoints to reach the city of Aden and then boarding a plane to Sudan, where they would wait nearly three weeks before arriving in Djibouti—would all be worth it.
But a few days before her visa interview, the US Supreme Court gave the green light to the third version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which bars entry for nationals from Yemen and four other Muslim-majority nations.
By the first week of March, Sharifa was still in Djibouti waiting for her visa. In that time, she had watched hundreds of other Yemenis in Djibouti receive rejection letters from the US embassy. Just like her, they were all relatives—usually a spouse or child—of a US citizen, and had applied for visas years ago, well before Trump introduced the ban.
When Sharifa finally received an update from the embassy three months after her interview, everything unraveled. Her visa had been denied. The decision was final; there would be no appeal.
The small piece of paper that said her visa was approved and once signaled her future mocked her now. “Many were given this same paper, but then they ended up rejecting them,” Sharifa said quietly, sitting on the floor of the small apartment she shares with one of her few friends.
Since December, her family has split in half. The passports for their two oldest children, Stralah, 10, and Ahmed, 8, were expiring, so they left with their father to go to the United States, believing Sharifa would follow shortly thereafter. Their 5-year-old daughter, Lama, and toddler Mohamed have stayed in Djibouti with their mother. “We spent all the money we had, and now we are stuck,” Sharifa said. “I can’t go back to Yemen, but how do I live in a country I don’t know?”