President Donald Trump has intervened to allow a group of Afghan girls entry into the U.S. to participate in an international robotics competition next week in Washington, D.C., a senior administration official confirms to ABC News.
The six girls from western Afghanistan’s Herat region had twice been denied visas to enter the country by the U.S. State Department, although the reason was never publicly disclosed. Still, many critics pointed to Trump’s travel ban executive order and his administration’s policies, which some perceive as hostile to some foreigners, for the girls’ denial of entry.
“The State Department worked incredibly well with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that this case was reviewed and handled appropriately,” Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy, said in a statement. “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.”
As POLITICO first reported, the president learned of the story and asked officials in the National Security Council to see if it could assist. Those officials followed up with Department of Homeland Security officials who approved the group via the “parole” system, which allows them to stay in the U.S. for 10 days, though technically not on visas.
The girls will take part in the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge, in which teams of young women and men from around the world showcase robots they created. It takes place from July 16-18 in Washington D.C.
On the competition’s website, the Afghan team’s bio read, “As a dedicated group of students, mentors, and volunteers, we aim to transform the culture of our community through the STEAM program and become some of the young leaders of science and technology.”
Earlier this month, FIRST Global President and former Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened about the Afghan team not getting visas.”
The organizers of the FIRST Global Challenge had planned to Skype in the team from Afghanistan so they could have watched their robot and others in the competition.
ABC News’ John Verhovek contributed to this report.