In the course of one excruciating day, with Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration, Dania Albaba’s family found themselves torn apart and indefinitely isolated from one another across five countries.
Albaba’s parents moved to the United States more than two decades ago to complete their studies and find work as doctors. After the war broke out in Syria in 2011, her grandparents left their cement factory in Damascus to join their children in Houston.
Albaba, 22, is a first-year medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston. She and her siblings were the first generation born in the US with American citizenship.
Following Trump’s recent executive order on immigration, she now stands at the centre of a family thrown into turmoil.
Her aunt was stopped on Friday in Dubai, en route to visit her family in the US. Albaba’s grandparents, who are green card-holding residents, now have no recourse to visit their 11 children living overseas.
Her cousin, who was granted American asylum after being tortured in Syria, had his family barred from visiting him on the day they received their visas.
Unable to return to war-torn Syria, the US is the only home Albaba’s family knows.
She reflects on the wrenching changes of this week, and the new reality of being a Muslim in Trump’s America.
On Wednesday, I was at my parents’ house, and everyone was talking about my Aunt Saana’s trip. We are renovating the house right now, in preparation for her arrival, and they wanted to finish everything on time.
I went upstairs on Facebook, where I saw a posting about Trump’s executive order blocking access to citizens of several countries, including Syria.
I ran downstairs to tell my mom that nobody could enter the country any more. They all started freaking out, my grandmother started crying. It would be my aunt’s first time in the United States, and since she just got married, it was meant as a sort of honeymoon, as well.
We were shocked, but I wasn’t as surprised as my family was. They had a lot more faith in the system, thinking that this could never happen in America.
Trump would never block refugees from coming, they thought. I told them he has been saying these things from day one.
My aunt was travelling from Saudi Arabia and had to transit through Dubai. She arrived and got on to her plane to the United States. Five minutes before her flight was about to take off, people from the airport walked on and told her: “You have to get off. You’re not allowed in the United States any more.”
They sent all her luggage back to Saudi Arabia, and then she had to return, too.
She was distraught.
Even though she knew about the planned executive order, nobody thought it would all come into effect this quickly. Now, she and her husband just need to wait and see what happens. They don’t really know what to do.
My grandparents used to live in Syria. They owned a cement factory and had 11 kids. Their children live around the world now, in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, London, the Emirates, Jordan, Syria, and three of them are here in the United States.
After the war in Syria, they got their green cards and moved to the US to be with my parents. They spend most of the year in the US, but a few months a year, they fly back to Saudi Arabia to visit my aunt and my uncle who lives in Jordan.
Now, they are really in limbo. They can’t go back to Syria. They can’t really live in Jordan. The US has been their home for four years.
I also have a few family members who moved here since the war broke out in Syria. My uncle’s wife is an American citizen, so they were able to come here with their two children. I have an aunt, as well, who just got refugee status and moved here in December, after two years of “extreme vetting”.
She made it just before the ban. Another cousin, who was imprisoned and tortured in Syria, sought asylum here after his brother was killed. My cousin’s family still lives in Jordan, and just received a visa to visit the US on the day the ban was declared.
Yesterday, my grandmother was on the phone all day, in tears. She doesn’t want to be split up from her family, and she doesn’t want to be trapped here for two or three years until she can apply for citizenship.That would be the only way she can visit any one of her other children.
The area I live in voted overwhelmingly for Trump. People have felt emboldened to express their hatred against me, too. Sometimes while driving, I’ve come to a stop next to another car and looked over to see someone glaring at me, glaring like they want to kill me.
I’ve had others stop their cars right in front of mine, and get out to just stare at me. It’s a threat. So, it’s been a little tougher since the election.
While I don’t want to have blind faith in any system, I do have some faith in the American system. I am an American citizen, there’s only so much that can happen to me. I’m just hoping for the best.
I was listening to the radio right before Trump was elected. A man whose grandparents survived the Holocaust was saying: “If people tell you that they hate you, you better believe them. If they don’t want you in their country, you should take them at their word. They are telling you how they genuinely feel.”
With Trump’s statements on Muslims, Mexicans, and his actions against women, I took him for his word. I think a lot of Muslims, many who even supported him, did not.
They thought he would never actually do the things he said.
But look what has happened now, all of this enacted in just the first week? It’s so disappointing, and I have no words left. I’m done trying to convince people.
As told to Barret Limoges