Members of an Afghan robotics team work on their robots in Herat province, Afghanistan, on July 4. (Mohammad Shoib/Reuters)
Members of an Afghan robotics team work on their robots in Herat province, Afghanistan, on July 4. (Mohammad Shoib/Reuters)

A group of Afghan teenage girls will be allowed to travel to the United States to partake in an international robotics competition after their visa applications were denied twice, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

A Homeland Security Department spokesman said in an email that the agency had approved a request from the State Department for the six girls on the robotics team and their chaperon to enter the country and attend the competition, which is set to bring teams from more than 160 countries to Washington next week.

The decision resolves a dispute that drew backlash from human rights activists and raised questions about whether U.S. agencies were retreating from previous efforts to advocate for young women in Afghanistan, where they are often denied educational opportunities.

The criticisms also fueled arguments that President Trump is seeking to ban Muslims from entering the country. The most recent version of Trump’s travel ban places visa restrictions on citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries, but Afghanistan is not on the list.

The head of FIRST Global, the organization hosting the competition, cheered the news in a 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 FIRST Global President Joe Sestak, a former U.S. Navy admiral and Democratic congressman. “That is why I am most grateful to the U.S. Government and its State Department for ensuring Afghanistan, as well as Gambia, would be able to join us for this international competition this year.”

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SOURCE: Derek Hawkins
The Washington Post

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