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Executive Order On Refugees And Travel Draws Some Praise, Much Concern

Isa Sabur thinks it will be a difficult four years for Muslims in the U.S. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

There’s continued strong reaction around the country to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order temporarily barring citizens from seven largely Muslim countries, and refugees, from entering the U.S.

The President has repeatedly said that the move is aimed at protecting the nation against extremists looking to attack Americans and American interests.

The appeal to national security was echoed today on NPR’s Morning Edition by southeast Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson:

JOHNSON: “If President Trump and those who think this Executive Order is irresponsible and over the top, if those of us that think that it’s the right thing to do, the some people might be inconvenienced.  But if those who are sensationalizing and exaggerating the Executive Order in opposition are wrong then Americans could die.”

The Executive Order has affected all refugees, and temporarily halted entry by most citizens from the seven countries.  One of the people affected is an internal medicine resident at the Cleveland Clinic who was refused entry to the country. 

Dr. Suha Abushamma is a Muslim and a citizen of Sudan, named in the travel ban.  She was denied entry while returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia—which is not named in the travel ban.

Also affected was a Syrian refugee family scheduled to leave a refugee camp in Turkey today to arrive in Cleveland tomorrow.

I spoke more about the situation with Danielle Drake, community relations manager with US Together, the Cleveland agency helping resettle that family.        

DRAKE: “This is a family that fled the war in Syria.  They stayed in Syria until 2014.  They were registered as refugees; they’ve been living in Turkey as refugees since May 2014, going through the process, applying for resettlement.  They had already gone through their security and background checks, their health screening, multiple interviews with Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies; were approved for resettlement, were offered resettlement to Cleveland.  They’re not allowed to come, no one’s allowed to come.  We have a 14-year-old boy from Congo that was also scheduled to come in February 6 and be reunited with his family that he was separated from for four years, from his father, and although he’s not coming from the Middle East, according to the current document no refugees will be allowed to come in for 120 days.”

GANZER: “So this is already having massive repercussions for the work you’re doing?”

DRAKE: “Huge repercussions.  Every resettlement agency in America was scheduled to resettle people on Friday, on Monday.  Houses have already been set-up, rents have already been paid, furniture has already been delivered in many cases, and now everything is paused.  And in addition to that, resettlement agencies, a huge portion of our funding comes from the number of people we resettle.  So if my agency, US Together, is not resettling 320 people in the coming year we can’t afford to keep our staffing as it is now.  So we’re talking about people potentially losing their jobs.”

GANZER: “You mentioned earlier people that you know who are here on Green Cards or other visa, if they’re visiting somewhere else we don’t know if they can come back, or what that status is going to be, right?”

DRAKE: “There’s a high school student who has a Green Card, originally came to Cleveland as a refugee from Iraq.  She is in the Middle East visiting family, there was a death in her family. I don’t know if she’ll be able to come back into Cleveland.  I’ve contacted the school and told them if she has issues we’ll get an attorney to try to help her, but it’s possible that she won’t be able to return.”

GANZER: “Your contacts and your colleagues, is there uncertainty, is there worry, is there frustration—can you describe it?”

DRAKE: “It’s every emotion.  The first initial emotion I think everyone felt was anger, just complete disbelief that this would happen, that an Executive Order barring all refugees and immigrants for at least four months was also signed on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  And then now people are kind of going from anger and fear to depression, and it’s really setting that we’re seeing tangible effects: this family can’t come; this boy can’t be reunited with his father; and what about the family that we resettled last year that thought their family was going to be reunited with them this coming year; family reunifications aren’t happening; I have part-time staff and contractors asking me if they need to look for another job. We don’t know what’s going to happen, every day we’re just waiting for e-mails, waiting for more information from our higher-ups.”

GANZER: “Just quickly, can you talk about how extreme the vetting is for people who are approved for resettlement and are on the way, like the family that is now stuck in Turkey?”

DRAKE: “Refugees are the most heavily vetted people to enter the U.S.  To step foot on U.S. soil a refugee is vetted for over 24 months at the bare minimum, 13 steps of security and background screening, three to five interviews with Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. government agencies—you can’t vet them any more heavily.”




The concern that future travel could leave individuals in a legal limbo is also worrying Bassel Albahra, a small business owner in Parma from Syria. 

ALBAHRA: “A lot of my friends, usually they want to visit family, they have business outside, now they’re all stuck here, they don’t know what to do and this is a problem for now.  They just want to understand about the ban, is it going to be over 90 days, is it going to stay that way forever? How’s it going to be? It’s going to be a bad situation for us.”

Albahra attended college in Toledo in 2001, and didn’t return to Syria until 2009, before the civil war.  He says he had hoped to work with the family business, and raise his kids, who were born here, back home.

ALBAHRA: “The regime destroyed or demolished our factory...at that time I had a tourist visa to the U.S., so I thought to bring my family, my wife and my kids, to find them a better life, so I thought to come over here.”

Albahra remains in the U.S. on Temporary Protected Status granted to people who can’t go home because of the danger it poses.  He says he doesn’t think his status will change because of the Executive Order, but he does worry about what may come. 

Despite the uncertainty, he’s heartened by his community here.

ALBAHRA: “They're all welcoming us, and actually that's what I appreciate here in this country. Always government is different...so we're just going to have to see and wait.”

Many people are waiting to see what will come of the Executive Order and travel ban.  Supporters of the President’s action have pushed back against claims that this is a quote-unquote Muslim ban, pointing out that it doesn’t incorporate certain large Muslim-majority countries.

But some Muslims expect a tough road ahead.  Isa Sabur is an IT analyst from Parma.

SABUR: “I think it’s going to be a difficult four years for Islam, for Muslims in general, because this president has shown outward enmity towards Islam, whereas previous presidents they didn’t show this enmity, they showed that they were [accepting of] all religions and they didn’t target Islam.”

Sabur says he finds most people are very nice, and don’t show the kind of enmity he feels from the President.  He says he thinks most people understand people have a freedom to worship, and are not a threat. 

Still Sabur says he believe Muslims are being tested now, and he has faith the President can’t do anything that Allah, or God, did not decree. 


Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.