After being denied entry twice, an Afghan all-girls robotics team arrived in the U.S. early Saturday morning, one gleefully flashing her recently-granted visa at cameras. The team of six will be showcasing robots they've created at the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge, a three-day competition at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., featuring robotics teams from around world. According to a senior White House official who spoke to ABC News, the happy ending comes after President Trump intervened on the girls' behalf.
"The State Department worked incredibly well with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that this case was reviewed and handled appropriately," said Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy. "We could not be prouder of this delegation of young women who are also scientists — they represent the best of the Afghan people and embody the promise that their aspirations can be fulfilled. They are future leaders of Afghanistan and strong ambassadors for their country."
Neither the president nor anyone on the White House staff have provided an official explanation as to why the team's visa applications were rejected twice, but critics cited Trump's travel ban — partially reinstated by the Supreme Court in late June — as the likely cause. Some pushed back against the speculation and pointed out that Afghanistan is not included in the list of six countries targeted by the president's executive order.
The girls' participation in the competition is seen by some as a sign of progress for women's advancement in Afghan society. According to Ambassador Alice Wells, who serves as the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the number of girls attending school in Afghanistan has exploded since the Taliban's ouster in 2001 — roughly 40 percent of the country's 9 million students are female, a massive difference from the 900,000 nearly all-male students who were pursuing an education nearly two decades ago. “It’s young women like these that are going to be the future of Afghanistan,” Wells said.
“Seventeen years ago, this would not have been possible at all,” said Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib. “They represent our aspirations and resilience despite having been brought up in a perpetual conflict. These girls will be proving to the world and the nation that nothing will prevent us from being an equal and active member of the international community.”
The team will be presenting a ball-sorting robot which can distinguish between blue and orange balls and organize them in designated locations. Teams from over 150 countries will be participating. On Sunday, the girls will be celebrated by supporters who fought for their right to enter the United States at the Embassy of Afghanistan.