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Trump a convenient whipping boy for Trinidad and Tobago footballer's US visa issue
Published on February 23, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dwight Yorke visiting the British Deputy High Commission in Chennai on 27 June 2012. Photo by the British High Commission, New Delhi, CC BY-SA 2.0

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- US President Donald Trump's travel ban may be on hold as his administration addresses where it may have overstepped constitutional provisions, but many social media users felt that the ban was the reason Trinidad and Tobago-born football superstar Dwight Yorke was denied entry into the United States on February 17. But was it, really? The answer is probably not.

The controversial executive order on immigration banned US entry to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran. When then acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to support the travel restrictions, citing them as unconstitutional, she was fired. Despite the Department of Justice's insistence that the travel ban was in the interest of national security, the US appeals court rejected an appeal to reinstate the ban after it was suspended by a different court. Nevertheless, many travellers have already been affected.

According to Yorke, he was “made to feel like a criminal” for having the Iranian stamp in his passport; he had visited the country to play in a football match to open a new stadium. Yorke was warned by airport officials in Qatar on February 17 that “there was a visa problem and a red flag had come up” because of the stamp. When told that he would likely face deportation if he landed in the US, Yorke explained that he was simply trying to get to Trinidad and Tobago, for which he had to catch a connecting flight in Miami.

Many netizens assumed the problem was related to Trump's travel ban, but journalist Vernon O'Reilly Ramesar suggested on Facebook that the incident was “possibly related to an Act signed by President Obama in December 2015″, known as the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. Posting a link to the Act, Ramesar quoted from it:

“Under the Act, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the VWP:

Nationals of VWP countries who have been present in Iraq, Syria, or countries listed under specified designation lists (currently including Iran and Sudan) at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited government/military exceptions).

Nationals of VWP countries who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited government/military exceptions).”

Popular sports website Wired868 backed up this claim, and helped clear up misconceptions:

“Former Manchester United star and Trinidad and Tobago World Cup 2006 captain Dwight Yorke was not turned back from Florida nor was he denied access to the United States due to President Donald Trump’s controversial ‘travel ban’, which was already stayed by the US courts.

“Instead, according to Trinidad and Tobago Government sources, Yorke was allegedly denied the opportunity to fly through Miami -- in transit -- due to a visa issue."

The US embassy subsequently explained:

“The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. Trinidad and Tobago is not part of the VWP.

“All prospective VWP travellers must obtain pre-travel authorisation via US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) ESTA system prior to boarding a plane or ship for the US.

“As of December 2015, nationals of VWP countries who have been present in Iran, Iraq, Syria -- and other specified countries -- at any time on or after March 2011 are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the VWP.

“These new eligibility requirements do not bar travel to the United States. Instead, a traveller who does not meet the requirements must obtain a visa for travel to the United States, which generally includes an in-person interview at a US Embassy or Consulate.”

Yorke eventually re-booked his flight to Trinidad via another transit point, but the whole misunderstanding was linked to Trump's executive order.

This article by Janine Mendes-Franco originally appeared on Global Voices on February 21, 2017
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