In January 2021, my husband and I happily welcomed our first child. While no one could foresee just how many challenges and sacrifices would be required of pregnancy and birth during a pandemic, we certainly didn’t anticipate how long they’d last after she was born. Our heartache was not borne of the virus itself, but instead the senseless public policy that keeps our family apart.
My husband is originally from Austria. He relocated to the U.S. when we married in 2017, but his family remains in Europe. Since then, we have spent a great deal of time and money traveling to and from his home country to nurture deep connections with the relatives we love.
Then, coronavirus happened. When COVID-19 began spreading in Europe, former president Donald Trump understandably halted travel to the U.S. from a variety of countries around the world, including the United Kingdom and 26 European nations. Initially, the Trump administration planned for the travel ban to last just 30 days, with the then-president explaining, “This is just a temporary moment of time that we will come together as a nation and the world.”
At that time, the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) decried President Trump’s decision, arguing it would not “help to prevent a coronavirus outbreak” and framing it as the Trump administration’s taking an “opportunity to once again attack Europe.” CAP said there was “little basis for the ban” and even accused Trump of “advanc[ing] Vladimir Putin’s agenda to divide the transatlantic alliance.” Really.
Unfortunately, as the deadly pandemic dragged on, so, too, did travel restrictions. Every few months, we’d make plans to see our family, only to cancel them a few weeks later. The pain of our distance intensified upon learning that I was pregnant, and as we eagerly anticipated the birth of a new generation for both of our families, we held out hope that we’d be able to share our joy with them in person soon.
Months went by, and there was no end to the travel ban in sight. That was until Trump announced that, amid the roaring success of the COVID-19 vaccine program, he would rescind all restrictions on European visitors, effective January 26, 2021. We rejoiced at the prospect of being reunited with our family just in time for our daughter’s arrival.
Our happiness and relief were quickly thwarted upon learning that President-elect Joe Biden intended to reinstate the travel ban — a ban that remains in place today and indefinitely. As a result, my in-laws were not here for my pregnancy, our daughter’s birth, or even her baptism. We have no idea when they can visit again. Our baby is changing daily, as children do, and my in-laws are missing it all for no reason other than the Biden administration’s refusal to “believe in science” and adhere to its own promises of compassion for immigrants and visitors alike.
A favored policy argument among Democrats is that “the science is settled” and that the science necessarily affirms whatever their existing views are. That is, unless the science allows a return to normalcy post-pandemic. In the U.S., 335 million COVID-19 vaccination doses have been administered, and even as the vaccination effort slows, we are still inoculating more than half a million Americans daily. As of this writing, 72 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, which, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, should be enough to restore normality.
The vaccines clearly work. In recent days, daily COVID-related deaths in America have plummeted to just double-digits, the lowest since mid-March 2020. Despite worries about coronavirus variants, it turns out the vaccines are extremely well-suited to combat them, leaving very few vaccinated people hospitalized and even fewer dead. Cases are down, too, with new coronavirus diagnoses around 3 percent of what they were at the pandemic’s peak.
While there are still sadly a small number of holdouts, America’s overall vaccine response has yielded tremendous benefits to us at home and abroad. We’re doing more and masking less here in the U.S., and we’re able to travel more freely across the globe, too. In the spring, EU member states signaled they’d ease travel restrictions on Americans, ultimately lifting all bans on travelers from the U.S. last month. President Biden did not reciprocate.
As a result, planes departing the U.S. are filled with eager American travelers, while those flying to the States are largely empty. To re-enter the U.S., American citizens and legal residents only need to show an airline representative a current negative COVID-19 test. Apparently, the Biden administration believes an identical test administered to a European yields a false result.
While the Biden administration told European visitors they weren’t welcome in the U.S., they enthusiastically opened our borders to visitors from other places, seeing such policies as emblematic of the compassion his presidency would restore to the White House. Immediately after Biden took office, illegal immigration at America’s southern border exploded, with his administration embracing a more lax approach to enforcing the country’s laws there, even as these migrants hailed from countries with abysmally poor vaccination rates, such as Honduras.
Meanwhile, one of Biden’s first executive actions on Inauguration Day was to reverse former president Trump’s “discriminatory bans on entry to the U.S.” that targeted seven Muslim majority and African countries. His proclamation read: “[The Trump Executive Orders] have jeopardized our global network of alliances and partnerships and are a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over. And they have separated loved ones, inflicting pain that will ripple for years to come. They are just plain wrong.”
For the Biden administration, European nations who maintain 21st century standard health care, conduct frequent testing, offer widespread access to vaccines, and publish transparent, timely data about their progress are just too much of a danger to America’s public health. Unlike Syrians or El Salvadoreans whose entry aligns with Biden’s politics, Spaniards and Swedes must languish in their separation from American family members because their heartbreak is simply not compelling enough to grant them visits with visas.
The Biden administration is clearly unmoved by their suffering, and they’re not interested in arguments from businesses and foreign governments to act quickly. They’ve ignored pleas from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, airlines, and a whole host of European diplomats who have expressed repeatedly how crucial it is to normalize international business and permit the free movement of people through allied nations. With the travel ban now in its 17th month, they’ve begged for it to be lifted, or at the very least, for Biden to issue guidance on when it will be. In both cases, the Biden administration has refused, only providing vague answers about being committed to safety and offering no firm timeline on when America will reopen to Europe.
For now, some travelers may score an exemption with special political or diplomatic qualifications. But ordinary people are simply out of luck. The social-media hashtag #LoveIsNotTourism is filled with heartbreaking accounts of couples and families torn apart by the travel ban — Britons who haven’t met their grandkids yet, Germans who can’t marry their American fiancées, French citizens living in the U.S. who still can’t see their relatives. News outlets such as BuzzFeed and the Washington Post have detailed the stories of those who yearn, day after day, to finally exchange their video chats for holding their loved one in their arms.
In America, coronavirus has robbed so many people of so much, from more than 600,000 dead to countless businesses shuttered throughout the country. It has stolen time from us, too — special moments, big milestones, and just the “real stuff of life” that makes it worth living. The Biden administration’s cruel, unjustified travel ban only worsens the damage already done.
On the campaign trail, Biden told voters that he’d bring about a return to normal relations with Europe and an end to “erratic policies” from the White House. He has failed on both accounts. For an administration who promised us policies grounded in science and compassion, they deliver neither, and real people are hurting because of it.