At First Denied U.S. Entry, Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team Shows the World What They Can Do
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At First Denied U.S. Entry, Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team Shows the World What They Can Do

JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: An all-girls team
from Afghanistan finally made it to the U.S. this week to participate in a robotics competition. Their visas were denied twice by American
officials, until criticism prompted President Donald Trump to intervene and reverse the
decision. The girls joined high school students from
more than 150 other countries, many of whom had never seen or made a robot before. Jeffrey Brown will look at some of the immigration
policy issues this is raising once again. But we start with special correspondent Kavitha
Cardoza of our partner Education Week. She spoke to some of the Afghan girls and
other international students in Washington, D.C. It’s part of our weekly series Making the
Grade. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Hundreds of high school students
arrived in Washington from across the globe, robotics teams from Jamaica to Jordan, Canada
to Australia. There was even one representing refugees. But none of the students had a more unlikely
journey, perhaps, than the crowd favorite. MAN: Team Afghanistan. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Sixteen-year-old Kawsar Roshan,
one of the six girls, says this was her proudest moment. KAWSAR ROSHAN, Team Afghanistan (through interpreter):
I was very happy, and I was proud when the people supported us. I’m happy when people feel that Afghans
can do something. KAVITHA CARDOZA: This robotics competition
is part of an effort to get more young people, particularly from underrepresented countries,
to enter STEM fields. It’s a term used to include science, technology,
engineering and math. A few months ago, all teams received boxes
containing hundreds of identical parts, and the students had to figure out how to take
the wheels and gears, sensors and sprockets, and create a robot. FATEMAH QADERYAN, Team Afghanistan (through
interpreter): We have an old computer, but often it doesn’t work. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Fatemah Qaderyan is from
the Herat province. Almost 40 percent of school-age children don’t
have access to education. Even when they do, there’s often a shortage
of teachers and textbooks. For many Afghan girls, Fatemah says even getting
to school can be a challenge, because they need a man’s permission. FATEMAH QADERYAN, Team Afghanistan (through
interpreter): We can’t go alone. And we need someone to support us, like a
man, to get us to the school, or other places we want to go. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Their coach, Alireza Mehraban,
says technology is hard to come by. ALIREZA MEHRABAN, Coach, Team Afghanistan:
We don’t have equipment of robotic. We don’t have it. KAVITHA CARDOZA: He says even though these
girls were chosen from more than 150 students, because the team has no experience in robotics,
some doubted their abilities. ALIREZA MEHRABAN: They say you can’t, because
it’s impossible. For girls in Afghanistan, can’t do this,
really. It’s too hard for us. KAVITHA CARDOZA: And what did you say when
they said that? ALIREZA MEHRABAN: We say, we can do it. Just we say, we can do it. Just give us a chance. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Then, after they built their
robot, their visas were denied twice. They were not given any explanation. FATEMAH QADERYAN (through interpreter): When
we applied and were rejected, we are so disappointed. We are crying a lot for six or seven hours. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Mehraban can hardly believe
they’re here. WOMAN: How do you feel when everyone cheers
team Afghanistan? ALIREZA MEHRABAN: What I have to say, because
the feeling like I’m so happy, so happy. I can’t describe it best. Really, I can’t describe it best, because
a feeling like I can’t control myself. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Eighty percent of these teams
are made up of boys, a gender gap that is reflected in STEM fields worldwide. But the inequality in education is far bigger
than just STEM subjects and Afghanistan. Around the world, more than 60 million girls
don’t have access to any education. The reasons vary, from wars, to cultural mores,
to something as simple as distance. Melissa Lemus is with team Honduras. MELISSA LEMUS, Team Honduras (through interpreter):
Some of my friends live about two hours from the high school, or they have to take a bus. KAVITHA CARDOZA: While Gregine Kumba Natt
with team Liberia says often they don’t have electricity during the day. GREGINE KUMBA NATT, Team Liberia: We need
to charge the robots, but in our country, we have poor electricity. We couldn’t charge our phones either, and
because of that, usually, we don’t practice at day. We practice in the night hour. KAVITHA CARDOZA: And like many countries here,
Ruby Balami from team Nepal says her school doesn’t have a science lab, so, initially,
she was nervous when she saw teams from developed countries, such as Japan and the U.S. RUBY BALAMI, Team Nepal: We think that they
are much competitive, and it was a scary thing, but, coming here, making them friends, now
we have — feel much more better, and now we are much more confident. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Some last-minute tinkering
and intense discussions, and then it was showtime. Each country’s team was paired with two
others, often not speaking the same language. Learning to collaborate and communicate is
part of the goal, says Dean Kamen, the founder of the competition, FIRST Global Challenge. DEAN KAMEN, Founder, FIRST Global 2017 Challenge:
You’re the first generation on this planet that could grow up with all of its kids knowing
each other, working together, creating value, so that you could all have better lives, we
can have a better world. And that’s the important thing here. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Fatemah loved meeting students
from other countries. She says she knows people think of Afghanistan
as a place of violence and poverty, but she wants to change that perception. FATEMAH QADERYAN, Team Afghanistan (through
interpreter): War like a habit for us, because bomb blasting and counterblasting and killing
people so normal for us, because we see it a lot. KAVITHA CARDOZA: She believes the only way
that can change is through education. Her mother stopped at grade six, and even
now more than three million children, mostly girls, are not enrolled in school. But someday, Fatemah wants to get a Ph.D.
in computer science. FATEMAH QADERYAN (through interpreter): Because
I need this, our country needs this, to have women educated, to be new generation in the
future. I want to show the world what Afghan girls,
or young girls, can do. We can show them, when we have a creative
idea, we can do it. KAVITHA CARDOZA: For the PBS NewsHour and
Education Week, I’m Kavitha Cardoza in Washington, D.C. JEFFREY BROWN: As Kavitha said, the visa question
for the Afghan girls gained national attention and the direct intervention by President Trump. Alan Gomez from USA Today joins me now to
talk about that part of the story. So, Alan, was this a special case, an outlier? What, if anything, does it tell us about the
current situation with visas? ALAN GOMEZ, USA Today: Well, absolutely, this
was a complete outlier. Understand that the Trump administration has
made clear throughout its time that it will handle any visa application on a case-by-case
basis, exceptions can always be made. But this case definitely represents a very
sharp departure from what has been a pretty clear strategy from this administration to
limit, to restrict, to in some cases completely suspend immigration from terror-prone countries. Now, understand that, you know, we’re still
dealing with the travel ban that the president has been trying to implement now for months
that is directed at six countries that have been labeled as having very close ties to
terrorism. He has completely suspended the refugee program,
all in the name of national security. And Afghanistan has never been on any of those
lists of countries, but, you know, I think it would be pretty easy to make a case that
Afghanistan has a bit of history with terrorism, so that’s why this case makes it — is
so, so surprising that it’s threes girls from Afghanistan that have been allowed into
the country. JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I wonder, do we even
know yet why they were denied visas originally? ALAN GOMEZ: No, the State Department generally
discuss individual cases and why it makes individual determinations. But when you think about the overall posture
of this administration to seriously scrutinize any visas, any visa applications that are
coming from countries with those ties to terrorism, it follows that trend of denying a lot of
those visas from people coming from those countries. JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so this case raises
some — plays into some larger confusions and that continuing controversy. I want to ask you about one other development
in the visa world that came yesterday. The government announced they’re adding
15,000 new H-2B visas. Now, explain what’s going on there. ALAN GOMEZ: Yes. And that’s just another example of why it’s
so difficult to try to figure out sort of what direction this administration is going
when it comes to the legal immigration system in the United States. Just a couple of months ago, to give you some
background, the president ordered a total review of the H-1B visa program. Those are visas dedicated to foreigners who
are trained in science, technology, engineering, mathematics. They’re used by technology companies to
bring in computer scientists and programmers. And the Trump administration ordered a review
of the program because they believe that there is too much fraud and that these technology
companies are abusing that program to just import cheaper labor. So, we had that as the background. They talk about American workers first. And that’s sort of the posture that they
have been proceeding under. JEFFREY BROWN: That’s H-1. That’s the H-1. Now, this is H-2, which is for temporary workers. ALAN GOMEZ: Right. And then, all of a sudden, yesterday, we get
this announcement that they are going to approve 15,000 additional new visas for H-2B visas,
and these are dedicated to lower-skilled workers. Think about people who work in fisheries,
in hotels, in construction, in resorts, and those are the kind of workers that they’re
going to allow in. The argument from the Trump administration
is that these companies, a lot of them were in very desperate need of the labor, that
they couldn’t find American workers to do that job, so they needed to bring in these
additional workers to do it. But, again, it sort of goes against what the
administration has been arguing for all these months, that they are going to limit the immigration
system to help American workers and to reduce the competition that they’re facing here
in the country. JEFFREY BROWN: All right, ever evolving. Alan Gomez, USA Today, thanks very much. ALAN GOMEZ: Thank you.

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1 thought on “At First Denied U.S. Entry, Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team Shows the World What They Can Do

  1. Why were their visas denied? I could care less about their capability in robotics and engineering. You were very clever in having the reporter ask why for the denial, because there could have been fair grounds for it. I can work up all kinds of reasons for why the visa would be denied, but a really good reason is the terror prone nature and resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan. It didn't take long to find a good article either. (Think about it… invite highly capable people into the country from a terror prone region to build robots — that is, access to various materials for engineering. Take some time on that.)


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