Behind all the administration’s bluster of keeping out terrorists and protecting the homeland through President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States, is the fact that innocent people—college students, teachers, athletes, mothers, and children—are most harmed by the cruel and heartless policy.
Trump signed the order last week, barring citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering this country for 90 days. Additionally, the order stopped all refugees from coming for 120 days and indefinitely stopped entry by refugees from Syria. The poorly planned and administered White House decree caused confusion among immigration officials at international airports and spurred massive protests against the policy.
For the moment, the new administration has been stymied and a dollop of sanity prevails in the wake of the national response to the Muslim and refugee ban. At the end of last week, federal Judge James Robart of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington suspended key parts of the executive order nationwide. That triggered an administration request for the travel ban’s reinstatement to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which, as I write, is preparing to decide on the legality of Judge Robart’s suspension of the presidential order. Without doubt, the legal wrangling will ultimately be decided at the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, real people’s lives hang in the balance.
My colleagues with CAP’s Immigration Policy team have collected reports of individuals’ and families’ stories of struggle and sacrifice, to inject some humanity into the dry paperwork and arcane legal arguments that dominate the politics and policy talk behind the Muslim and refugee ban.
Consider here, just a few of the many documented stories of people harmed by this unjust policy:
Sara, 31, a former television presenter told The New York Times that she fled to Indonesia after receiving death threats in Afghanistan. The Taliban, who were likely behind these death threats believe Afghan women have no role in public, let alone on television. Before Trump issued his travel ban, Sara had been waiting for more than three years to receive a visa to the United States. Now, she continues to live in limbo.
“The bitter truth,” she told the Times, “is that your whole life is dependent on a single decision of someone who doesn’t have even the slightest idea what it’s like to live as a refugee.”
An unnamed Yazidi refugee from Iraq told The Guardian that she was waiting at the departure gate to board her flight to the United States when the world turned upside down on her.
“We are under threat here in Irbil because of my husband’s work with the Americans,” she said of her family’s struggle to gain refugee status. “Rejecting us in this way is really shocking—especially for those that helped the Americans. If one person worked with the Americans, then the whole family is under threat [from extremists]. I am not trying to go to the U.S. for political or economic reasons; I am fleeing Iraq because I am a minority, and every day I live in fear that [Isis] will attack and l will be displaced all over again.”
Dr. Suha Abushamma, 26, is an internal medicine resident at the Cleveland Clinic. Although she had an H-1B visa for workers in “specialty occupations,” which should allow her to enter, live, and work in the United States, Abushamma was not permitted to enter the country.
Abushamma holds a passport from Sudan, which is one of the banned nations. At the airport, customs agents gave her two choices: leave voluntarily and immediately, withdrawing her visa, or be forcibly deported, which would prevented her re-entry for at least five years and blemish her previously spotless immigration record. Abushamma chose the first option and, just hours after arriving in New York, she was forced to board another plane and return to Saudi Arabia, where she was born and raised.
As of this writing, Abushamma is in Saudi Arabia, seeking to have her visa reinstated. But as long as the executive order is winding through the courts, her fate is uncertain. In an interview with ProPublica, she expressed disbelief that she was prevented from continuing her studies in Cleveland. “I’m only in this country to be a doctor, to work and to help people—that’s it,” she said. “There’s no other reason.”
Sahar Algonaimi, 60, was detained for five hours at Chicago O’Hare International Airport following the issuance of the executive order. Algonaimi, a Syrian national, had traveled to the United States from Saudi Arabia to visit her 76-year-old mother who is recovering from surgery for breast cancer. Although she held a U.S. visa and had planned to stay in the country for a week, she was she was forced to board a flight to the United Arab Emirates instead of being allowed to clear customs.
Algonaimi’s sister, Nour Ulayyet, a U.S. citizen who now lives in India, spoke to The Huffington Post about the effect of her sister’s experience.
“I needed someone to be with me here,” Ulayyet said through tears at the hospital. “How am I going to teach my kids and tell them that this is a free country? How can we tell my kids that we have to take care of each other?”
As these stories make crystal clear, there’s a human dimension to the policy choices that a nation makes. Indeed, there are hundreds, if not thousands, more stories like these. This nation should never allow such a policy by blindly following a mantra of fear. Trump’s executive order refuses to recognize the immorality of decisions that don’t make us safer but only breeds hostility at home and abroad. There can be no other option than to resist this heartless and inhumane immigration policy.
Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.