A federal appeals court in San Francisco has refused to reinstate the Trump administration's ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations..
While this is a victory for both American values and justice, we know that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely. We still have a fight ahead of us.
Meanwhile, it has been an extraordinary two weeks.
Thousands of Americans—among them JFON attorneys, staff members and volunteers— streamed into airports across the country in support of those left stranded by the adminsitration's hastily-conceived and mean-spirited ban. Thousands more marched in protest, contacted their elected leaders, and spoke out in Houses of Worship.
"We want them to know that they are welcome here," explained one NJFON staffer who drove to Washington Dulles Airport to greet travelers. "We want them to know that this is their home, too."
This month, we offer three different perspectives of these extraordinary times: from a JFON attorney who volunteered at an airport, a young Syrian asylum seeker, and an Iraqi engineer who risked his life to help the U.S. forces free his native country from tyranny.
The America we love
The America we must defend
“This is a normal work day for you, yes?” Zamir asked, looking around the chaotic waiting area at Washington Dulles airport, where hundreds of protesters were gathered with signs, and lawyers sat on the floor with cellphones and laptops at the ready.
Zamir is a U.S. lawful permanent resident (LPR or Green Card holder). Having served our government abroad for years in a dangerous and vital capacity, he now calls Maryland home.
“All these lawyers…they are being paid?”
“No, we’re all volunteers,” replied Angela Edman, site attorney for DC-MD JFON. Having extensive experience serving refugees and asylum seekers, Angela had driven to Dulles early on Sunday morning to assist in any way she could. And there she had met Zamir, her newest client.
“We’re here to help you.”
Zamir was silent, but his face mirrored puzzlement and disbelief.
“Because I believe the president’s orders are wrong,” Angela told him. “This is not the America I love. And we want to show you that you are welcome here.”
Just then, as if on cue, the waiting room erupted in cheers as a group of travelers straggled through the doors. There were balloons, flowers, American flags and robust cries of “welcome home!”
It had been a terrible day for Zamir. His wife, also an LPR, and his baby daughter, a U.S. citizen, were in their home country, visiting a gravely ill family member. Now they were stuck there and could not get back to Maryland.
Zamir was sick with worry, but a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
“Wow,” he muttered, shaking his head in wonder and gratitude. “People actually do want us here.”
We serve vulnerable immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
We don't first ask them where they were born, how they worship, or whom they love.
This is where I belong
Roughly a week after the new administration announced its travel ban, indefinitely prohibiting any Syrian refugee from entering the U.S., Amnesty International released a report detailing the execution—by hanging—of 13,000 Syrian civilians at Saydnaya prison, some 40 kilometers north of Damascus.
The number of dead is so staggering, the cruelty so monstrous, that we shake our head, unable—unwilling—to comprehend such evil acts.
“It is shocking, but it’s not surprising,” says Tarek, a JFON client and Syrian asylum seeker living in Chicago. “The Assad government proved to me a long time ago that there is nothing they won’t do to stay in power. The people executed at this prison were just ordinary people. Yes, they opposed the regime, but they didn’t do anything about it. They were just normal citizens.”
Tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians have disappeared over the last four years. They are taken from their homes, schools, offices, and markets. There is always some place where they were last seen. But they are never seen again.
Tarek almost became one of the legion of disappeared himself. Smart, studious, and serious-minded, he was an engineering student in Damascus before the war started. As a university student, Tarek had attended a few peaceful protests. He had also—using a fake name—complained about the regime on Facebook.
Such a silly, simple thing, and yet it could have cost him his life.
Tarek got out of Syria three and a half years ago. With the help of Northern Illinois JFON’s supervising attorney Jenny Ansay, he applied for asylum. He completed his studies in Illinois and now has a good job, a girlfriend, and friends. He has not, however, been able to visit the parents and sisters he left behind.
Tarek worries that his asylum claim will be rejected. He worries he won’t be able to stay in his new country. He would like to be able to meet his family in a neighboring country—Turkey, perhaps, as going back to Syria is out of the question—but he doesn’t see how that is possible. The administration’s travel ban has thrown a menacing shadow over so many lives.
Yet the events of the past week have also led to something surprising—an unintended outcome that President Trump and his supporters simply did not foresee.
“When the ban was first announced, I didn’t really imagine that a lot of Americans would care about people from those seven countries,” Tarek explains. “But then I saw the number of people coming out to protest. It really surprised me until I realized that what Trump did was truly against American values. The people protesting were telling the world that this action is un-American.”
Tarek—only 25 years old—has seen a lot of despair and misery in his short life. But it hasn’t changed who he is. A travel ban—even a Muslim exclusion ban—isn’t going to change him, either.
“Right now, I feel very lucky,” he says, smiling. “I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of Chicago.”
Ahmed, an Iraqi civil engineer, worked for a decade helping the American war effort in Iraq, putting himself and his family in daily danger. He now lives in the U.S. with his wife and two daughters, a happy result of Iowa JFON’s site attorney Ann Naffier’s tireless efforts on his behalf.
We asked Ahmed how he and his family are coping since President Trump issued his now-infamous travel ban.
“We were surprised that he included Iraq,” he says, shaking his head. “We are allies. There is an agreement between the two countries to fight terrorism. So we would expect support for the Iraqi government, not for the U.S. to ban Iraqis.”
Having lived through the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Al Qaeda, the death squads and ISIS, Ahmed is sympathetic to the U.S. government’s desire to protect America from terrorist attacks. “But what really shocked me,” he adds, his face filling with dismay, “is the feeling of many of the U.S. citizens against immigrants and refugees, especially those who are Muslim.”
On Sunday, Jan. 29, a Canadian white nationalist opened fire in a Quebec Mosque during evening prayers, killing six people and wounding 18 more. Ahmed voices the concern of many Muslims—and non-Muslims—that anti-Muslim rhetoric could develop into similar acts of violence here in the U.S.
“People don’t understand that those who flee to the U.S. or Europe and leave everything they own behind are looking for a safe environment for their kids,” Ahmed explains. “We are not terrorists. We are victims.”
Ahmed also reminds us that the message from the prophet Mohammed is one of peace and love, and that the terrorists who invoke such fear and loathing in us are not true Muslims. “They do not belong to Islam,” he says earnestly, and you can see how important it is to him that people understand this and believe it.
We think back to these past two weeks, to the thousands of people who came out to the airports, who marched in the streets, who called their elected leaders and spoke out in their houses of worship. All of these people together also have a message to share.
“So many U.S. citizens supporting us like this, who care about their neighbors—these are the real Americans,” says Ahmed, his voice tinged with awe. “I believe they are what makes America great.”
To read Ahmed’s original story from June 2016—Daddy’s Home—please gohere.
NJFON launches 20 by '20 Campaign
$20.20 helps us reach our goal!
Today, all across America—in cities, towns, and rural areas—immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are in desperate need for qualified and trustworthy attorneys.
Our goal is to help meet that need by growing from 15 to 20 JFON sites by 2020.