Rebecca Spiess

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Supreme Court ruling on travel ban stuns Muslim community

PHOENIX – Seventeen-year-old Faisa Ahmed moved to the United States when she was nine years old, brought by parents who fled the Somali civil war.

For her, President Trump’s travel ban on certain countries is personal: her relatives are still trapped in Somalia.

“These people are fleeing these countries for a reason,” she said. “A lot of my family members in Somalia are trying to come here.”

Last year, Ahmed’s aunt attempted to immigrate to the U.S. from Somalia, but her visa was denied. Now, she plans on moving to Kenya to try again.

Protesters have shown up at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix many times since it opened at a new location about six years ago, center president Usama Shami said. (Photo by Nick Serpa/Cronkite News)

“They’re all out there suffering,” said Ahmed, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Kenya.

She said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to uphold the travel ban means her aunt will struggle to find a way into a country that has sheltered Ahmed from harm.

The Trump administration has placed travel restrictions on immigrants from countries like Somalia, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and North Korea. President Trump called it a move to combat terrorism and extremism and secure the country’s borders.

Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said the Supreme Court’s decision keeps terrorism at bay.

“None of these countries really have an organized central government that can actually discern who’s good, who’s bad, who doesn’t meet the requirements,” he said. “Remember that coming to this country is not a right, it’s a privilege.”

Gosar said many would-be immigrants don’t want to leave their home countries and are instead being forced to flee. He said alternatives to immigration to the U.S. included measures like safety zones for refugees and other asylum seekers to inhabit during conflict.

“I don’t think that it’s the U.S. government’s job to do that for the world,” he said. “It shouldn’t be the United State’s job to be the sole police force.”

Gosar said that to be considered safe, countries would need to have a “stable” central government, with public documents to vet citizens’ backgrounds.

In countries like Somalia, in the midst of decades-old civil war, public records are tough to come by but Gosar said it’s up to other countries to develop safe zones for refugees of conflict-ridden countries.

Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, said he was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling because he saw Trump’s initial justification for the ban as anti-Muslim and discriminatory.

Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, said he’s concerned President Trump’s travel ban will negatively affect how Muslims and other groups are treated. (Photo by Nick Serpa/Cronkite News)

“He tried to change that by adding non-Muslim countries to the mix, but the premise is still the same, and that’s what the Supreme Court did not include in their decision,” Shami said. “The intention was to ban Muslims from coming to the states.”

Shami said members of the Muslim community are directly by the ban but the impact is widespread.

“It gives the wrong impression to people to start discriminating against different ethnic groups,” Shami said. “Even though the ban might not impact members of the community directly, eventually it comes out as the reaction of the people who support him and have a bigoted slant,” he said.

He also said the ban has other problems.

“It doesn’t have a sunset. So, basically, it’s an open-ended ban,” he said. “And the other thing is that it didn’t put a road map for these countries to be able to be off the list.”

Ahmed, Shami and Sandy Villotaro, a DACA recipient, said ethnic and minority groups share a connection.

“All minority groups feel in the same boat. They feel that they’re connected with what’s going on with the policies of this administration,” Shami said. “Muslims are not a homogenous group. We have Latinos who are Muslim, we have African Americans who are Muslim, we have Natives who are Muslim, so it doesn’t matter. The impact is felt by the whole community and by the whole society.”

Villotaro, who works with Ahmed doing voter registration and canvassing, said she empathized with the Muslim community.

“We’re both facing almost the same thing,” Villotaro said. “We’re all trying to be together and show each other we know what we’re going through. Instead of being afraid, we’re telling each other we need to keep going.”

-Cronkite News video by Nicole Hernandez

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