Maziar Hashemi, a naturalized US citizen who has lived in the US since the 1970s, has been told by doctors that his best hope for surviving a rare form of blood cancer is a bone marrow transplant. Hashemi’s brother, Kamiar, a small business owner in Iran, is a perfect match for such a bone-marrow stem-cell transplant.
The problem? It’s uncertain if Maziar’s brother can travel to the US from Iran for the procedure because President Donald Trump’s travel ban made that impossible.
Bone marrow transplants require a close match between donor and recipient. A few months after his diagnosis last September, Hashemi, 60, learned that his brother in Iran, Kamiar, was a rare 100% match. The only problem was Kamiar’s nationality; he’s Iranian.
The latest travel ban, issued as a presidential proclamation and implemented on December 8 after months of legal squabbling, bars most travelers to the US from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea, as well as certain government officials from Venezuela. Although the ban allows for case-by-case waivers to be granted, including for medical need, Kamiar Hashemi was denied a visa.
Attorneys who regularly deal with visa issues say the waiver process is “opaque.” Visa applicants aren’t allowed to apply for waivers; they are simply granted or not without explanation. US officials won’t say how they make their decisions or how long they generally take.
A US State Department official told Reuters that since the ban took effect, more than 375 waivers have been approved but he declined to say how many total visa applications have been filed from countries covered by the ban. He said he could not comment on the specifics of Hashemi’s case.
The Trump administration has said travel restrictions are needed to protect the US from terrorism. Critics have challenged the latest ban, as they did previous versions, saying that it discriminates against Muslims. Six of the eight countries included in the current ban are majority Muslim.
Worried that his brother’s time was running out, Kamiar Hashemi investigated traveling to India to have his bone marrow harvested there and rushed to the US, but that option was also thwarted. A nonprofit organization trying to facilitate the transfer, called “Be The Match,” said it had to pull out of the effort after its legal team concluded that Kamiar’s bone marrow couldn’t be exported to the US because of US sanctions on Iranian exports.
“Can you imagine that the cells of an Iranian needed in order to help a US citizen are embargoed?” said Maziar Hashemi, a civil engineer who lives in Massachusetts. “I cannot wait much longer.”
Tennis legend John McEnroe had these choice words when challenging a referee’s call: “YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!”
That was my take when I first became aware of the absurd result (reported above) of the Trump travel ban on mostly Muslim countries. It was one more story headed for my “Profoundly Stupid” file cabinet; right next to Trump’s tweet that, “Trade wars are good, and easy to win.”
But then late on Friday, CNN reported that the US State Department finally approved a visa for Maziar Hashemi’s Iranian brother, Kamiar, to come to the US in order to have the potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant. As reported above, Kamiar–a rare 100% match–had been denied a visa when he first applied at the US Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia, in February. (There is no US consulate in Iran.)
Maziar finished his fourth round of chemotherapy on the day he reportedly received the call about his brother’s visa approval. Maziar’s doctors had scheduled a bone marrow transplant surgery for April 27. If Kamiar’s visa hadn’t been approved, Maziar’s son, Robert, who is only a 50% match, was going to donate his marrow.
The consulate confirmed that the visa had been granted during a telephone call last Thursday, according to Kamiar’s lawyer.
A flood of aphorisms immediately flooded my mind when I learned of the visa grant. Axioms like, “All’s well that ends well,” “Better late than never;” you get the point.
But then there’s, “You should’ve seen this (absurd situation) coming from a mile off.” Maybe next time, but I doubt it.