CNN  — 

Sitting in her office in Rockville Maryland, high-school teacher Jessica Breitschwerdt Monfared checked the image on her cell phone to make sure she was centered on the screen. She took a breath and pushed the record button.

“Hi, my name is Jessica Monfared,” she said, raising a photo up to the camera showing her and a man, smiling, their arms around one another, “and I married my Iranian husband this past March, in Denmark.” She and her husband, Pouya Monfared, applied the next month for a spousal visa so he could join her in Maryland. “We are going through this process to follow the rules and bring him here properly,” she said on the video.

“With the travel ban in place,” she added, “we’re just not sure that he’ll be able to come, or at least not any time soon – which, as newlyweds, is really frustrating, because we just want to be together.”

Monfared’s video is one of more than a hundred posted over the past few months on the web site by American citizens, permanent residents or prospective immigrants who are being kept apart from their wives, husbands, betrothed, children, or other family members by the Trump administration’s travel ban. The most recent version of the ban has been in effect since December 2017, and mostly targets Muslim-majority countries. The video campaign, organized by several immigrants from Iran, opens a window into the desperation of what one libertarian think tank estimated is more than 10,000 people from five Muslim-majority countries who have been kept from their loved ones since the ban took effect.

Jessica Breitschwerdt Monfared with a photo of herself and her husband, Pouya Monfared.

Many say they feel trapped in a bureaucratic limbo, hoping against hope to be granted one of the ban’s waivers or exceptions. In practice, the State Department grants few waivers. According to data released by the department in February, during the first 11 months of the ban, through last October, only 5.9% of visa applicants were given a waiver, while another 29% were waiting in “administrative processing.”

The State Department declined interview requests from CNN, but emailed a response stating, in part, that as of the end of January, “2,673 applicants were cleared for waivers after a consular officer determined the applicants satisfied all criteria and completed required processing. Many of those applicants already have received their visas. The bases on which an applicant may be excepted from the Proclamation or qualify for a waiver are clearly explained in the Presidential Proclamation itself.” Those waivers include ones for both immigrant and non-immigrant applicants, such as students and researchers – a total pool of tens of thousands a year.

The department didn’t respond to questions about the process for issuing waivers. However, in a February 22 letter to Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, an official wrote that “The burden of proof is on the alien to establish that they are eligible for a visa and a waiver to the satisfaction of the consular officer.”

A revised ban takes hold

After Trump repeatedly said during his campaign that he would ban all Muslims from entering the US, federal courts cited his words in blocking the first two versions of his travel ban in 2017. In December 2017, the Supreme Court allowed a third version of the ban to go into effect, and it ultimately upheld the ban last June. That version severely restricted visas from a list of Muslim-majority countries – Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – along with Venezuela and North Korea. Chad was removed from the list last April, after the White House said the country improved security measures.

Under the ban, the State Department rejected more than 37,000 visa applications from citizens of the affected countries in 2018, compared with fewer than 1,000 such rejections a year earlier. About four out of ten of those rejections were for immigrant visas, according to federal data.

On April 10, Democrats introduced a bill known as the “No Ban Act” in the House and Senate to overturn the ban, but the measure is not expected to pass the GOP-controlled Senate. Meanwhile, lawsuits challenging the ban continue.