After parts of Trump's Muslim ban went into effect in June, it was revealed the team from Afghanistan — a group of young girls who had to brave a dangerous journey in order to apply — were denied visas to enter the U.S. Now, The FADER has learned, a second team participating the FIRST Global annual robotics challenge was denied entry into the United States to participate in the conference.
The Gambian Robotics team, from the Republic of Gambia in West Africa, were also denied visas from the U.S, according to the team's mentor. Mucktarr Darboe, the Director of Science, Technology, and Innovation at for the Gambian Ministry of Higher Education and Research is one of the mentors for the team of young scientists, who were chosen by their high schools to participate in the competition.
"It started when we were invited as a country to take part in the robotics competition," said Darboe, in a comment to The FADER. "We started engaging with the FIRST Global team, and we did the registration...and they encourage the teams to apply for their visas very early, on time, which we did."
Each of the members of the team that were supposed to travel to the U.S. made sure that they turned everything in exactly on time, and worked closely with the FIRST Global team to ensure they were doing each step correctly. The day that they received news of the visa denials was a hard day for his students, all who are either 17 or 18 years old, and who worked tirelessly to complete the project.
Darboe told The FADER that the reason given for the denial of the visas was the Section 214(b) is part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This means that the individuals applying for the visa, either the student or visitor visa, were not able to provide enough evidence that they would leave the United States after their permitted stay.
Al Jazeera reported that a visit from US Ambassador C Patricia Alsup served to further inspire the students. They also reported that each visa application cost $170, which was challenging for the families to pay.
"They are very optimistic," said Darboe told The FADER, detailing that they remain hopeful despite two denials of the visa applications, and who were very proud of their work thus far.
Souffie Ceesay, a Public Relations Officer for Gambian American Association based in the U.S. told The FADER that team had actually applied for their visas twice and were denied both times. Ceesay is the mentor for the Gambian team based in the United States, which will be a group of Gambian American students who will represent the team if the students who built and programmed the robot in Gambia are unable to attend the conference.
"They are truly inspirational kids who haven't done this before," said Ceesay in a comment to The FADER, about the Gambian students working on the project. "They're incredible."
"People need to know that we're all in this together," said Joe Sestak, the President of FIRST Global who is a former Admiral and Congressman, who highlighted the attendance of many other nations, including a team comprised of Syrian Refugees. "We could not have done this without professionalism of the State Department."
Darboe told The FADER that Team Gambia is intended to have additional meetings on Wednesday, July 5 in a third attempt to obtain visas for the students.
The U.S. Embassy in Banjul told The FADER that they cannot comment on individual visa cases and did not immediately respond to further requests for comment.