The fallout from the Trump administration’s temporary ban on immigration from seven primarily Muslim countries is being felt close to home.
Two families in Columbus are trying to help family members who have gone through years of proper channels to obtain permission to come to the United States, only to be blocked abruptly by President Donald Trump’s executive order.
Hanna Omar, a Columbus resident who was born and raised in New York City, is a member of one of those families.
A spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana, Omar and her family are awaiting word whether her cousin, who is an American citizen living in Indianapolis, will be allowed to bring his wife and 2-year-old child to America from Yemen.
Story continues below gallery
Her cousin had an appointment scheduled for Thursday in Yemen to finalize arrangements for the family to travel to the United States, but the American embassy in Yemen had closed.
Instead, the family took a treacherous 24-hour ride on a cargo ship across the Red Sea to try to get an appointment in Djibouti, only to find the embassy there had canceled all immigration appointments.
Not only can a taxpaying U.S. citizen no longer bring his family to the United States, Omar said, but her cousin is also now marooned with his family in Djibouti without any resources or job, with nowhere to go, she said.
The only option right now is for the family to return to Yemen, a country that has been embroiled in civil war for years, she said. The couple married four years ago in Yemen and have been working since then to be together in the United States.
All of this happened within hours and days of the immigration order, something that Omar says has caused confusion, disappointment and anger throughout the local Muslim community. For some, years of preparation and waiting have come to this — an American citizen unsure if he can return to the United States, forced to remain outside his own country to be with his family, she said.
“This has left many families with uncertainty,” Omar said.
Family members are continuing to communicate through WhatsApp on their phones, but Yemen has limited internet access and it is unknown how long that connection could continue.
Protests begin, families worry
Omar was among the hundreds of protesters at the Indianapolis airport last weekend, joining residents around the state in protesting the immigration ban for the countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
Omar said she knows of a Sudanese man seeking to be reunited with his family — again, an American citizen seeking to bring his wife to the United States, but the final approval has been blocked, she said.
And local families from Syria are concerned that even though they have green cards and immigration status that allows them to live and work in the United States, they can’t leave the United States to visit their home country because they might not be allowed to return, she said.
An estimated 20 families locally are from Yemen or Sudan, and there are two to three families from Iran in Columbus who may be affected, Omar said.
Dalia Mohamed, whose extended family is from Sudan, has lived in Columbus with her husband, a Cummins employee, since 2011. The family has a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, and keeps close contact with her extended family, bringing her parents to visit them in Columbus when possible.
“We won’t be able to do this anymore,” she said of the immigration order. “My mother was shocked.”
The family had planned to have Mohamed’s mother come to visit this year for a second opinion by American doctors for a heart problem she is being treated for in Sudan, she said.
“But now I don’t know what will happen,” she said.
And Mohamed said she is worried about whether she would be allowed back in the United States after traveling to see her parents and her brothers in Sudan.
“I’m just worried about her,” Mohamed said about her mother’s heart condition. “I’m having to choose between my mom and my family.”
The Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana is hosting a private event tonight with an immigration attorney to provide information to families affected by the immigration order.
Omar said initially the group planned to have the event open to the public, but then decided to keep it private to allow individuals to freely ask questions and be open about their immigration issues without fear of retribution to them or their families.
“Immigrants throughout Columbus are terrified,” Omar said of the mood in the Muslim community. “Especially about what could happen in the future.”
“Many people in Columbus have H1 visas and a lot work for Cummins,” she said. “How will this impact those visas? No one knows.”
An H1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. Cummins spokesman Jon Mills said the company has more than 1,400 H1B visas throughout the company in the United States.
The United States issues about 85,000 new H1B visas each year and recipients may stay in the United States up to six years — with most of the visas going to high tech workers, according to the federal government. The visas are so popular that the federal government holds a lottery to distribute them.
A Muslim ban?
While Trump is calling the immigration order an effort to keep terrorists out of the United States, Omar said it’s really a ban on Muslims entering the United States — something Trump has wanted to do but did not have a legal way to accomplish it.
“This doesn’t seem like a fight on terrorism,” Omar said of the executive order. “It looks like a Muslim ban.”
If people look where terrorism is coming from, it is apparent much of the terrorist activity in the U.S. is what Omar describes as “home-grown.”
Referencing Dylann Roof’s shooting attack during a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Omar said she considers his actions to be those of a terrorist. News reports have said Roof is a white supremacist who wanted to start a race war by shooting nine people, all African-Americans.
The countries that Trump has targeted are primarily Muslim and have been the sites of civil war or unrest for years, leaving the countries defenseless to stand up for their citizens or refugees from this type of treatment by Trump, she said.
Omar said it is worth noting that Saudi Arabia, the home country of 15 of the 19 terrorists of 9/11, is not on the ban list, which she says is for one reason — business. The United States sells a lot of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the Saudis provide oil to the United States, a mutually beneficial business relationship that the Trump administration will not jeopardize with an immigration ban, she said.
“This executive order needs to be rescinded,” she said.
But not everyone agrees with rescinding Trump’s executive order.
Chris Harrison, Columbus, wrote a letter to the editor to The Republic saying as a Republican conservative, but more importantly an American, that it’s time for the country to stop allowing anyone into the country with no questions asked without knowing more about them.
“There’s definitely more people who feel that way than don’t in America right now,” he said.
Harrison said he believes Americans have been feeling sorry for everyone else in the world — the refugees — for too long, when Americans, such as veterans are not being helped by their own country, he said.
“The U.S. is expected to be the babysitter of the world,” and it’s time to be more cautious about who the U.S. lets in, he said.
Education, not a ban
When asked how she believes the United States should prevent terrorists from entering the United States, Omar said the public’s willingness to educate themselves about the Muslim faith is key to preventing terrorism in the future.
“People have to open themselves up and watch the news that doesn’t just cater to their own opinions,” she said.
Omar speaks at various forums, meetings and gatherings around Indiana and Bartholomew County to talk about the Muslim faith and says others of the faith need to go out and educate the American people.
“I am out in the community and the first thing I am asked is, ‘Where are you from?'” she said. Born in America, Omar still is sometimes taken aback that Americans don’t realize that not everyone who is a U.S. citizen is a white Christian.
“I have a lot of people questioning my nationality — my citizenship,” she said. “Racism and bigotry is still a big issue in this country.”
Omar is hopeful that the real life stories of families who are affected by the immigration ban will convince Americans that the executive order is affecting their own neighbors and isn’t really protecting anyone against terrorism. “That needs to hit home,” she said.
The Islamic Society of Columbus is welcoming other local groups such as Black Lives Matter and those who represent the Hispanic and other ethnic groups to join with them to ask that Trump’s executive order be rescinded.
“This fight is not just our fight,” Omar said. “It’s everybody’s fight. This needs to be humanity’s fight.”
The executive order signed by President Donald Trump on immigration bars citizens of seven countries with primarily Muslim populations from being allowed entry in the United States for 90 days. The countries are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
All refugees are banned from entering the United States for 120 days. An estimated 218 million people are being affected by the order, according to government estimates.
National Immigration Law Center: nilc.org/
American Immigration Lawyers Association: ailalawyer.com
American Civil Liberties Union: aclu.org