All of Us are Very Strong: Stories from those Affected by the Travel Ban

On Friday Jan. 27, Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13769 banning refugees and immigrants from entering the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia). During his campaign, Trump talked of a “Muslim registry” and “extreme vetting” of immigrants; this order was seen as him fulfilling that promise.

Green Card and visa holders, including those already on their way to the country when the order was signed,  were unable to enter the country. They were detained or sent back, creating chaos at airports throughout the United States. Although the ban was quickly challenged through the judicial system, many students at the University of Redlands were directly and indirectly affected by the ban.

 

Freshman Mo Abdelrahman grew up in Sudan and moved to the U.S. at 14 when his family decided to move to Iowa for his sister to accept a scholarship to the University of Iowa. Abdelrahman said he felt the affects of the ban shortly after the order was instated.

mo

Mo Abdelrahman

“I woke up on Saturday morning [Jan. 28] to missed calls from my family,” Abdelrahman said. “I wasn’t sure what my summer plans were, if I was going to stay here, but I always had that option since my family is moving back, to go back home. So they were calling me and telling me that I’m not going to be able to go back this summer. They were obviously very mad about it.”

Since Abdelrahman’s family is moving back to Sudan in the summer,  he said that he received text messages and support from friends and parents of friends letting him know that he can stay with them in the U.S. if necessary as well as support from professors at the University.

“Losing that option of going back home really pissed me off. I haven’t been home in almost four years and every year I’m like, ‘okay I will go this year’ and then something happens in the summer and I’m like ‘okay maybe I’ll stay this summer.’ but this year I was like ‘okay I’ve been here way too long, I need to go home.’ Even though it was not directly in my plans, just not having that option really sucked and having the confusion of when I can go home, even if it’s not this summer, am I going to have enough confidence in being able to return back or not.”

Despite there was a temporary lift of the ban, Abdelrahman remained unsure about his ability to go back to Sudan.

“I’m definitely afraid of going home and not being able to come back, I still don’t have enough faith to just go back home, even after it has been lifted, I don’t feel confident enough,”  Abdelrahman said. “It happened all of a sudden, it wasn’t gradual, he just signed an executive order and people were trapped.”

Mo said that he plans to stay in Iowa for the first month of summer where he will work and save money. Depending on citizenship approval and finances he will either be able to visit Sudan or stay with friends whether that be in Iowa, somewhere else in the U.S. or Redlands.

Although Abdelrahman’s parents and other family members have received their citizenship, he and his sister are still waiting to advance in the citizenship process by taking the citizenship test. He applied around the same time as his parents, but because he was waiting to turn 18, he sent in his application around a week later. Ultimately, that weeklong difference led to his pathway to citizenship being delayed for a few months without much reason as to why.

The path to gaining citizenship to the United states starts with first completing an application which is reviewed by United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once the application is accepted, applicants get their fingerprints taken and background checked (which can be a lengthy process). With clean fingerprints and background check, the applicant is called for an interview and citizenship test, again, a few months later. If the applicant is approved based on their interview and they pass the test, they are cleared for the citizenship ceremony, which could be months away. At the time of the initial travel ban, Abdelrahman was waiting for the opportunity to take his test.

“We actually got in contact with our congressman back in Iowa and he was like, ‘Oh we’re trying to push it through but there is a bit of a delay, lots of transitions with the office,’ so we’re put on hold for that,” Abdelrahman said. “It’s annoying, hopefully it will be there soon, but they just keep saying ‘Wait a little bit more, it will get there.”

His application has recently been approved and he has plans to go home in the next few weeks for his interview and test.

 

Freshman Hiba Salih is also Sudanese but was born in Virginia, automatically making her a citizen. Never actually living in the United States, she spent most of her life living in Saudi Arabia and then in Sudan before moving to California to attend the University of Redlands.

hiba

Hiba Salih

“When I heard about it I was like ‘I’m scared, I’m terrified actually,” Salih said. “I got the news from my family who called very, very scared from back home.”

“It’s scary. I think it’s scary because people can’t imagine what other humans can do to each other. And I’m very sad because we didn’t do anything to you. It’s a big ball of shit honestly.”

“I’m very proud to be Sudanese. I’m very proud to be Muslim. I’m very proud to be a woman. But I didn’t choose my position,” Salih said. “People who have been born into this privileged society, they take advantage of it, and it makes me wonder sometimes, ‘How would I react if I had privilege?’ Any sort or privilege just gives it to me and I’ll make good of it. It makes us wonder, ‘Why?’ What’s your reason, but even then, even so. I still have some sort of hope. I don’t know from what or why, but it’s the hope of like now that this crap is going down, you can tell who the good people are, you can tell who the really good people are especially during this time because people show their true colors. We need help, as a human race we need help. These movements are happening they are ways that people can show that they care.”

“Not by [having] the white savior complex, no thank you we don’t need that, but we do need alliances, we need help, we need people to stand by us and to stand for us,” Salih said. “We also need our own people to stand up too. Cause it’s hard. It’s really, really, really hard. Because you’re putting yourself in a place where you can be targeted in a very negative way. And it’s hard we didn’t choose to be in this position but we are also given the strength. I know we have a lot of strength, as black people, as Africans, as women, as Muslims. We’re very strong, all of us are very strong, and this is the time to show that to the world.”

When Salih found out that the ban was “temporarily lifted,” she said she was not necessarily impressed and instead was left wondering why the ban was even necessary in the first place.

“I hate Trump, but I was also taught never to hate anybody. But I actually pity him. I think what’s worse than hatred or anger towards someone is pity. Because then you know they’re low.”

“My family cannot come with visas, but I don’t think they would want to come anymore. And why would they? We don’t need this country that much do we?”

 

Freshman Faduma Haji was born in Tennessee but spent her early years in Somalia before moving back to Tennessee and eventually to California. Overall, she’s lived more years in Somalia than in the United States. Haji said she is more attached to Somalia and considers it her home.

“Because of my dual citizenship, it forces me to recognize both parts of myself,” Haji said.

“It was just so quick. It irritates me to think that positive policy that helps people takes so long. But something as negative as this just happens so quickly. And it’s scary to think if he can do all of this within a month of his presidency, what can he do in four years?” Haji thought.

“I was automatically thinking through my head that I’m basically stuck here and can’t go home.” Haji said. “I hate feeling fear, and that’s what I felt at that moment too. Because this was such a big deal, this was someone impending on my rights, and that’s a scary thing.”

Although Haji has dual citizenship, she said she is still fearful because of stories she’s heard about people with different citizenship statuses being detained.

Haji was not impressed after hearing that the ban was temporarily lifted.

“Honestly, I thought it was bullshit, complete bullshit. Even knowing that most people in the Muslim community are going to be super cautious and careful,” Haji said.

“This policy was enforced in a way that was sudden and also the rules for it were not clearly stated, so therefore you basically lost the trust in the Middle Eastern and Muslim community.” Haji said.

 

Junior Damara Pratt is of Iranian descent and is the President of the university’s Middle Eastern Students Association (MESA).

Damara Pratt

Damara Pratt

“My family is Persian. My mom is full, she married a white guy, so my dad is white and I haven’t been able to go to Iran before and so I was planning on going after graduation next year with my friend Layla. She has a house in Isfahan and we were going to travel to Tehran where I have family and I was going to finally be in the physical place of my culture and actually be immersed in my heritage,” Pratt said. “Because of the travel ban, Iran, which of course is very competitive with the U.S, people say that they share the same sense of nationalism and arrogance, so the supreme leader, the Ayatollah, responded to Trump’s ban by saying if you’re not going to let Iranians go to America, we’re not going to let Americans come to Iran.”

When celebrating Persian New Year with her family, Pratt’s uncle told her that, “Yes, you can’t go to Iran now because of the ban. But a year ago you never thought the Donald Trump would be President. Everything changes and it changes quickly. This will change, too.”

“Our first meeting after the ban we were all kind of sitting together and Arash [Hafizi, Vice President of MESA] and I had talked about how we would like to do things on campus,” Pratt said.  

Pratt said that members of the club decided to put together their stories and then write them in chalk in Hunsaker Plaza.

“We had one person who identifies as Jewish but started coming to MESA meetings chalking about how Trump passed this on the Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’m drawing a giant flower saying that ‘we belong’ and putting different countries in different petals,” Pratt said. “The energy was so good. It’s such a small stupid thing and chalk goes away in a few days, but it really felt that we were able to manifest our feelings and have a voice.”

Pratts

Pratt’s sidewalk art

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot and the Muslim ban, I heard about it before it happened through the leak, so I had time to prepare for it, but when it happened, I was not expecting the reaction that I had to it, and that was really hard,” Pratt said. “I realized I was depressed, I wasn’t able to get out of bed very quickly in the morning and I’d be thinking about the ban always.”

More than just being personally affected, many people were confused as to why the policy was instated and questioned Trump’s motives and intentions.

“We have this idea of what an American looks like and what an American is and I think Trump is appealing to nationalism and this idea of American nationalism that does not exist and should not exist,” Pratt said. “I think it’s very easy in this political climate to use the Middle East as a scapegoat but to ban people, to accuse them of being terrorist when no nationals from those seven countries had killed an American citizen since 1975, according to the Cato Research Institute. And other countries like Saudi Arabia who have killed over 2,000 have business ties to Trump were not included in the ban.”

“As a Sudanese, for example, Trump uses 9/11 as a big scare factor. In 9/11 all of the terrorists that were involved… were from places like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, UAE. None of these countries were banned because they have strong economic ties to the U.S.” Abdelrahman said. “But we [Sudan] were in the ban and basically used as scapegoats, as something to kind of shut the Americans up, you know, shut the populations up that Trump is doing something about it, but it’s not the right action.”

“The ban and people who support the ban are sending a message to people who are trying to find a place in this world and contributing to this world and are rejected because of their identity,” Pratt said.

“It was a little bit of a backstab because before coming to the U.S. we were well off back home. We had a good life, we’re not refugees here or anything like that. We won what they call the lottery because the slim chances to actually make it to the U.S. so we applied to it just to visit some family because we always wanted to visit and see what it was like over here, so when we got our green cards we were promised every right but voting and obviously becoming President,” Abdelrahman said. “And we were fine with that and we’ve always had the privileges we’ve had legal wise as anyone else, but after building my future here, starting college here and then having that taken away from me, it’s like, wow, okay, you’re going back on your promise. That’s not what I was promised.”

Although the future is still uncertain considering the ban was temporarily lifted and then revised and reinstated, many states and citizens are responding to Trump’s ban with rejection.

“I’m going to keep participating in every form of protest that I can,” Haji said. “And I am going to keep encouraging and lifting up my people and all the people affected by it.”
sidewalk chalk photos contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer, Halie West. Photos of individuals are contributed by the subject.



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