Editor's Blog

Afghan Girls Robotics Team Finally Allowed To Enter US For Competition

Remember the team of teenage girls barred from entering the United States where they were to compete in a robot building challenge? Well here’s some good news – the decision has been overturned, with barely a day to spare.

It’s no secret that IFLScience seldom has anything positive to say about Donald Trump. Whether it’s his actions on climate science, views on women and their productive rights, comments on vaccines, failure to fill vital positions or cuts to science education, we’re vocal about all the ways Trump is anti-science. However, we also believe in giving credit where it’s due, which includes his staff stepping into allowing one of this year’s good news stories to reach its conclusion.

As we reported last week, six Afghan girls were chosen to be part of First Global, an international robot building event. Teams from 163 countries are to co-operate with, and compete against, each other to develop skills in robotics and teamwork across international boundaries. The robots themselves may provide clues on how to deliver life-saving clean water where it is scarce.

The girls were so keen that, when the equipment they were to use to build their starting robots was delayed, they practiced with the limited materials they could assemble. They twice made the very hazardous journey from Herat to Kabul to be interviewed at the US Embassy, but were twice rejected, even for one-week visas.

Now, however, a State Department request for US Citizenship and Immigration Services to reverse the decision and allow the girls, and their chaperone, into the country, has been approved. Moreover, the Gambian team who were also originally rejected, and four other teams that had been waiting for an answer, have been accepted as well.

First Global president and former congressman Joe Sestak celebrated in a statement, saying: “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.”

We don’t know whether the change of heart came all the way from the White House, or if the decision was made further down the line. However, as a previous president noted, the buck stops on the President’s desk. Just as President Trump is rightly held responsible for his underlings’ mistakes, he gets credit for this decision.

The urgent scramble to get to Washington may put the Afghans and Gambians at a disadvantage, but they can still look forward to the experience of a lifetime. Extremists telling Afghans the US would never treat them with respect have had their propaganda victory snatched out from under them, and even greater alliances will be created against those who wish to divide us.

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