Afghan girls will be allowed into US for robotics contest

FILE- In this Thursday, July 6, 2017, file photo, teenagers from the Afghanistan Robotic House, a private training institute, practice at the Better Idea Organization center, in Herat, Afghanistan. U.S. President Donald Trump intervened to allow the group of Afghan girls into the country to participate in a robotics competition. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the president’s intervention Wednesday, July 12, 2017. The six female students from Afghanistan had hoped to participate in an international robotics competition this month, but their visa applications to enter the U.S. were denied twice. (AP Photos/Ahmad Seir, File)

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials will allow a group of Afghan girls into the country to participate in an international robotics competition after President Donald Trump intervened, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Wednesday, ending a saga that had sparked international backlash.

Homeland Security Department spokesman David Lapan said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved a State Department request for six girls from the war-torn country to be allowed in, along with their chaperone, so they can participate in the competition. The girls’ applications for U.S. visas had been denied twice.

The non-profit organizing the competition celebrated the reversal in a jubilant statement Wednesday.

“I truly believe our greatest power is the power to convene nations, to bring people together in the pursuit of a common goal and prove that our similarities greatly outweigh our differences,” said Joe Sestak, the president of First Global. He credited “the professional leadership of the U.S. State Department” for ensuring that all 163 teams from 157 countries, including a team of Syrian refugees, would be able to participate.

The U.S. State Department had declined to comment on why the Afghan team’s visa applications were denied, saying that “all visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis in accordance with U.S. law.”

A senior administration official said that Trump raised the issue with his national security adviser, H.R. General McMaster, during his trip to Germany last week for the Group of 20 summit, and had asked for additional options. The State Department and Department of Homeland Security came up with several — with the idea of “paroling” the girls through the Department of Homeland Security ultimately chosen by the National Security Council. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.

Parole is a temporary status in which a person who is otherwise ineligible to enter the country is allowed in temporarily because of an emergency or humanitarian purpose, or because it’s deemed to be in the public good.