By Debra J. White –
Reaction was swift to President Donald Trump’s immigration ban against seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Libya) that was signed on January 27, 2017.
Protesters gathered right away at airports around the country and in cities big and small, chanting “let them in” or “hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.” There was a crowded, raucous protest in Phoenix at Sky Harbor Airport that was originally scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. but lasted well into the night. All protests were peaceful and no arrests were reported.
The original order banned even green card holders from entry but the administration later backed down. A federal judge in Brooklyn issued a stay on January 28 for immigrants with valid visas or those already in transit. Another federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked the ban altogether on February 3. His ruling remained in effect after a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit declined to reinstate the ban on February 9. The three-judge panel, according to the New York Times, said the ban did not advance national security nor was there evidence that anyone from the seven nations listed in the ban committed terrorism in the USA.
According to news reports February 10, the White House was considering issuing a new executive order that would reinstate the ban while resolving issues raised in the legal challenges being made by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. “We’ll be doing something very rapidly having to do with additional security for our country. You’ll be seeing that sometime next week,” Trump said during a press conference with the prime minister of Japan. An appeal of the latest ruling had not been filed but reportedly was under consideration.
Trump had immediately lashed out at the initial judicial orders, which blindsided Customs and Border Control officials and created confusion among others. In some cities, it was reported that valid visa holders were detained. Others were sent back to their home countries while some were allowed entry. On February 4, the Department of Homeland (DHS) temporarily suspended enforcement of the ban.
Here are the stories of two local families, both Somali, affected by the ban and the ensuing confusion.
Married and the mother of three, Qamar was born in Somalia but raised in Dabaab, the largest refugee camp in Kenya. As a youth, she always wanted to come to the United States and become a citizen. The process started in 2008 through the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees). She completed long interviews, background checks and a medical examination. She was 16 years old at the time. In 2009, she immigrated to the USA. As a legal resident, she was on the road to citizenship. She got a job and eventually got married. In October 2014, she took her citizenship test, passed and was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. At her swearing-in ceremony, the usually shy woman spoke in front of a large crowd about her pride at becoming a citizen and how much she appreciated the USA welcoming her.
In the meantime, her family still lingered at the Dabaab camp. She petitioned to complete the family reunion process now that she was a citizen. Like Qamar, her mother and brothers were subjected to numerous interviews and background checks. In 2016 they were finally cleared to immigrate to the USA pending medical examinations. Trump’s executive order canceled all medical examinations and now the family reunion is on hold.
Qamar was looking forward to seeing her family again after such a long time. “They’ve never seen my three children or met my husband. I wanted so much to be together again. I miss them so much,” said Qamar.
A U.S. citizen of Somali descent, Khadija too has family living in a Kenyan refugee camp: her mother, sister and her sister’s four children who she longs to see very much. She began the family reunification process in 2007 through the UNHCR. There were numerous interviews and background checks on all the family members. In September 2015, they were medically cleared. Catholic Charities notified the family they could finally immigrate to the USA. A flight was scheduled for February 22, 2017. The excited family packed their belongings for the long flight to Arizona.
Khadija too was just thrilled that she would be with her family again. She has no family in the USA other than her husband and four children. When Khadija learned of the ban, she was crushed. “I was so sad,” she said. “I thought we would finally be together again after all these years. My entire family was hurt by the ban.”
Neither Khadija nor her family knows what will happen next. The ban supposedly is for 120 days but Trump could extend it or make it permanent. No one knows. In the meantime, Khadija, Qamar and all the others who expected to be reunited with their families just sit and wait. It is not known if these two families will be allowed to immigrate to the USA in the near future despite the recent judicial orders.
Refugees in Arizona
Arizona is among the top 10 states for refugee resettlement according to the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan fact tank based in Washington, D.C. From 2012 to 2016, almost 42,000 refugees resettled in Arizona, with most coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Myanmar. Refugees also come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia, Bhutan, Ukraine and Iran. There is a difference between refugees and asylum seekers. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a refugee status is a form of protection that may be granted to people who are of special humanitarian concern to the USA. They are outside their country and unwilling to return home for fear of serious harm. Asylum is given to people already in the United States or at a port of entry. Asylum seekers must meet the definition of refugees regardless of country of origin.
According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an international organization that works on behalf of refugees and has an office in Phoenix, there are currently 20 million refugees world-wide. Only 1% of refugees are resettled in 28 participating nations, of which the USA is one.
The immigration ban has a far-reaching impact besides separating families and upsetting refugee resettlement plans. For example, citizens from the affected countries temporarily living in the USA are concerned about travel plans. Muslim college students fret about returning home for the upcoming Ramadan holiday. Will they be allowed to return and complete their studies? That’s a question that no one can answer with certainty and some students may not go back this year to be with their families.
Meanwhile, protesters continue to rally against the ban at airports and other public places. Thousands of supporters flood the White House, Senate and House of Representatives with phone calls, faxes and e-mails to show support for Muslims. The outcome of the ban is unknown but it has generated fierce opposition not just from Americans but around the world.
Refugee settlement may decrease under the Trump Administration. The president has already expressed a preference for Christian refugees. Furthermore, he dislikes the work of the United Nations and threatened to withhold dues. It remains to be seen how many refugees the United States will accept in the coming months and years. Resettlement agencies like the IRC, Catholic Charities and Refugee Focus are preparing for the worst. Families like Qamar’s and Khadija’s hope to be reunited with their loved ones. Many people are placing their hopes with the U.S. court system to continue rejecting the immigration ban that Trump imposed.