New York’s Yemeni Muslims on Trump’s unblocked travel ban: ‘It’s petrifying’


Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail| 30 June 2017| 05 Shawaal 1438

As Donald Trump’s oft-promised travel ban finally comes into effect after a number of legal battles, members of communities in the US set to be hit by the ban fear what it will mean for the futures of both their families and themselves.

Portions of the ban, affecting six Muslim-majority nations – Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – were passed by the Supreme Court this week and went into effect on Thursday evening local time. For those in the Bay Ridge area of Southern Brooklyn, home to one of the largest Yemeni communities in New York, many are bracing for a struggle.

For those in the Yemeni community there, they’re worried about what Mr Trump’s policy will mean for friends and family hoping to flee to the US from war and disease. They’re worried about their own futures, too. And, they’ve already begun to feel the effect the President’s rhetoric has had on the attitudes of the American people.

“It’s really, really tough. It’s petrifying, to be honest”, Emma Ali, a 30-year-old woman of Yemeni descent who has lived in Brooklyn her entire life, told The Independent.

Ms Ali, like many others in Bay Ridge has family that is stuck in limbo trying to flee from the deadly civil war in Yemen. As Mr Trump’s travel ban has moved through the court system, news of deaths has continued to arrive from that country, adding to the concern that the ban will end the chance for friends and family to find safe haven in America. Ms Ali has no idea what will happen to her sister, who is waiting in Jordan on final approval to come to the US.

Many are confused by Mr Trump’s ban. For those born and raised in the US, they note that they are just as much American as the President, hijab or not.

Samia Aljahmi, 37, sat down exhausted after teaching an English class to a small group in the Al-Noor Social Centre, and said that her Muslim faith instructs her to respect the President no matter what, but that she is worried nonetheless. Born and raised in Michigan, Brooklyn is her adopted home. She works at the center helping people prepare for the naturalisation test to become American citizens. Mr Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims has taken a toll – she now is told by people to “go back to your country” on the streets, even though she’s a third generation American – but she said that cultural current hasn’t deterred her or her students.

“They love America”, she said. “They love being here. They love the opportunities they have here. They love the education.”

The President’s travel ban has had a rocky road to implementation. Soon after taking office, Mr Trump signed the first iteration of the ban, immediately ending travel to the United States from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Protests erupted at airports around the country, as the hastily imposed measure created havoc for travellers from those predominantly Muslim countries, some of whom were in the air when the ban was unilaterally imposed.

That initial measure ran into roadblocks just a day later, when judges in Massachusetts and New York issued temporary halt on parts of the ban. Over the next week and a half, legal challenges to the ban were heard in courts across the country, leading Mr Trump to advise his administration to rewrite the order.

In March, Mr Trump announced that a second ban would be put into place. The new measure was modified from the original to omit Iraq from the list of targeted countries.

That order was halted just hours before it was supposed to be put into place after attorneys for Hawaii challenged the measure, citing the President’s statements in the 2016 campaign pledge to end Muslim travel to the United States as a reason as to why the ban was a tightening of religious freedoms.

Both the Fifth and Ninth US Circuit Courts of Appeals ultimately heard arguments against the ban, and both decided in favour of barring the Trump administration from going forward with the ban. Judges on the Ninth Circuit, in their ruling, cited Mr Trump’s campaign rhetoric as well, saying that the ban appeared to be motivated primarily by racism, not by national security concerns.

Citing deference to the President on matters related to national security, the US Supreme Court ruled this week that parts of the ban could go ahead, and said that they will provide a full decision later in the year once the Court reconvenes.

The White House immediately claimed the decision as a major victory for the embattled President, a view backed by a White House official on Thursday, who said that it marked a “significant win for our national security”.

The narrowed version of the ban blocks travellers from those countries for 90 days, and suspends the US refugee programme for 120 days. The Supreme Court outlined certain exceptions though – individuals with “bona fide” connections to the US are exempt, which includes family ties, work, and education.

The State Department has defined a close familial relationship as being a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling, including step-siblings and other step-family relations. Late on Thursday the department also reversed a decision that originally said fiancés were not considered as close familial relationship.

A department cable said grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law “and any other ‘extended’ family members” are not considered close family.

Asked how barring grandparents or grandchildren makes the United States safer, a senior US official did not directly answer, instead pointing to Mr Trump’s guidance to pause “certain travel while we review our security posture”.

The US government expects “things to run smoothly” and “business as usual” at US ports of entry, the same official said. However, the administration’s decision is likely to mean that few refugees beyond a 50,000-cap set by Mr Trump will be allowed into the country this year. As of Wednesday evening, 49,009 refugees had been allowed into the country this fiscal year. The State Department said refugees scheduled to arrive on or before 6 July could still enter.

Ms Ali’s sister may qualify as having a bona fide connection to the US, but her many cousins who are in similar situations may not.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the groups challenging the ban, called the new criteria “extremely restrictive” and “arbitrary” in their exclusions and designed to “disparage and condemn Muslims”. 

Both Ms Ali and Ms Aljahmi say that the rhetoric around the ban has pulled back the curtains on racism in America that hasn’t been as blatant to them in years past. Mr Trump, they say, has given people cover to express their fear of Muslims both at home and in public. Stories like one where a Muslim family has had their neighbours allegedly throwing urine at their home, or one where a woman in a hijab got pushed on the street with her baby in tow, are becoming more common.

That’s even in Bay Ridge, a neighbourhood known for a sense of diversity even by the standards of New York City.

“I am afraid”, Ms Ali said. “I’m trying to disassociate from my Muslim faith in public, which is sad”.

Source – Independent