Earlier this month, hearts broke for a team of robot-building girls from Afghanistan who were twice denied visas into the United States to attend a robotics competition. On Wednesday, however, POLITICO reported that, after hearing about the situation, President Donald Trump urged officials to let Afghanistan's girl robotics team into the country in time for their July 16 competition.
While not commenting directly on why the girls' visas were initially denied, a statement obtained by POLITICO from Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Dina Powell commended the departments who collaborated to handle the situation — and praised the girls for their work:
The State Department worked incredibly well with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that this case was reviewed and handled appropriately. 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.
While the girls still won't be granted visas, they will be allowed in the United States for 10 days, under a Department of Homeland Security authority known as "parole," POLITICO reported.
The team will attend the FIRST Global Challenge, an annual robotics competition being held in Washington D.C. The competition brings together international students and sheds light on global challenges as well as the importance of STEM education.
While their robot was sent abroad to compete and arrangements were made for them to video-conference in to the event, the team of girls from western Afghanistan were rejected twice for the necessary visas to attend in-person. They had even made two seperate trips to attend two rounds of interviews at the American embassy in Kabul, 500 miles away from their hometown of Herat.
While many critics believed anti-Muslim sentiments buoyed by Trump policies were to blame, the exact reasons for the team being denied are unclear. As Forbes reported, even though Afghanistan is not one of the countries mentioned in Trump's partially reinstated travel ban, the rate of visas approved from the country in recent months have been low.
Shortly after the change was announced, Ivanka Trump tweeted "I look forward to welcoming this brilliant team of Afghan girls, and their competitors, to Washington DC next week! #WomenInSTEM," alongside the POLITICO report.
While those rooting for this team of girls will undoubtedly be thrilled at the news, the culture that allowed for the team of girls to be blocked in the first place may make the victory a little bit bittersweet.