Los Angeles Daily News Opinion: Two years later, the continuing cost of the Muslim ban

Several years ago, a client of mine at the Council on American-Islamic Relations came to the United States from Yemen to study dentistry. After graduating from one of the nation’s most prominent programs, he was hired on as a professor and is now training the next generation of U.S. dentists.

Recently, though, my client received devastating news: a diagnosis of an acute form of leukemia. Neither his wife nor his young American citizen children matched as bone marrow donors, so he asked his mother and sisters if they’d be willing to be tested. They readily agreed – but donor analysis needed to be done in the U.S., and because Yemen is one of the countries impacted by the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, initial attempts to obtain temporary tourist visas were denied.

This troubling story is a reminder of the continuing cost of the Muslim ban, which was enacted two years ago this week. And it’s not just people like my client who are suffering: According to a major new report from New American Economy (NAE), immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are well-educated and productive members of U.S. society, so efforts to exclude them do real harm to native-born Americans, too.

Almost half of MENA immigrants who attend college gain degrees in much-needed STEM disciplines. That’s 18.8 percentage points higher than the general U.S. population. They often go on to secure well-paid jobs, contributing taxes that support the growth of key cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego, as well as our state and local economies. Here in California, MENA immigrants paid more than $1.5 billion in state and local taxes in 2015,more than any other state in the nation. They also held an estimated spending power of $13.5 billion.

NAE found that a stunning 18 percent of MENA immigrants, or nearly one in five, are entrepreneurs. That’s almost double the rate for native-born Americans, and also far higher than the rate for immigrants overall. The rate is even higher in California: 28 percent of the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area’s MENA immigrants are entrepreneurs. Quite simply, they create jobs and are crucial to our economy.

Like my client, many other MENA immigrants, are doing vital work in our healthcare system. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the country is already short tens of thousands of doctors—a figure it predicts could grow to more than 90,000 physicians by 2025—and the situation is especially acute in rural areas, where labor shortages have left 135 counties without a single physician.

Immigrants are vital to plugging those gaps, with foreign-born workers now making up 17 percent of America’s total healthcare workforce, including almost a quarter of all dentists, and nearly 28 percent of doctors and surgeons. More than one in seven doctors in small rural counties are foreign born. It’s fair to say that our healthcare system simply couldn’t operate without foreign-born doctors and nurses.

Yet despite the urgent need for immigrants to fill gaps in the U.S. healthcare workforce, the Trump administration’s Muslim ban is making it harder for employers to hire professionals from MENA countries. Iran and Syria, which like Yemen are covered by the ban, are both among the top 10 countries that send physicians and surgeons to the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute. As of 2015, the U.S. had 14,000 physicians from Syria and Iran, and almost 30,000from across the MENA region, saving American lives and caring for patients on U.S. soil.

That, in part, is why the American Medical Association has urged the White House to rethink the Muslim ban, arguing that the ban is “negatively impacting patient access to care” and directly straining our healthcare system.

My client’s story, at least, has a happy ending. He came to my office seeking legal counsel, and we were able to file new applications for his mother and siblings, several of which were issued visas, but not all. Contrast that with the dismal number of waivers issued by the State department overall. In the first two months of the ban’s implementation, only two waivers were issued. Six months later, the waiver approval rate was a paltry 2 percent. As of September 2018, the State Department revealed that 1,836 applicants were “cleared” for waivers, out of more than 27,000. It’s still unclear what percentage of those visas were actually issued.

Thankfully, one of my client’s sisters was a 100 percent match, and he was finally able to schedule his much-needed bone-marrow transplant. Still, his situation is a happy exception to an impractical and economically damaging rule. This ban restricts highly-qualified professionals from coming here and supplying the medical skills, entrepreneurship, and tax revenues that we so desperately need. Ending the Muslim ban would be a win for the both the physical and economic well-being of America.

Farida Chehata is the Immigrants’ Rights Managing Attorney at the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA).

Read the full opinion piece at dailynews.com.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…