Dreams dashed: Trump’s Muslim ban damage may never be undone
Trump masqueraded the xenophobic ban as an essential tool to strengthen national security but ended up hurting those who cherished democracy.
Asser has been in hiding in Syria for almost a decade to avoid being arrested by the country’s notorious intelligence services and disappearing into a prison system infamous for torture and extrajudicial killings.
He says he is wanted for protesting against President Bashar al-Assad’s government when the uprising first began in Syria in 2011 and people demanded political and economic rights.
The agitation did not quite go his way as Syria was catapulted into chaos, turning into a long-drawn-out war between the Russia-backed regime and myriad opposition groups.
In 2014, when his family, half of whom resided in the United Arab Emirates, applied for immigration to the United States, Asser was of two minds about leaving his cause and his country.
He also did not yet have an escape route to get out of Syria.
As his family reached the US and began the paperwork to bring him over, Asser waited to ask his connections for help getting out for the day when he could rejoin his family.
“My family left during Obama’s tenure when refugees were accepted by the US, but my documents were cleared later. By then, Trump’s ban against the entry of citizens of some Muslim nations, including Syria, made it impossible for me to reunite with my family,” Asser said on the phone from Damascus. His name has been changed for his protection as he fears apprehension by the security apparatus.
On his first day in office, American President Joe Biden delivered on his promise to end “Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban” as he rescinded travel restrictions on 13 nations, mostly Muslim-majority or African.
He has given hope to the tens of thousands of people who were affected by the ban.
‘Unjust, very unjust’
But those like Asser who saw the US as the land of political liberty and aspired to usher in the same in their country are still shocked that they were categorised as a security threat.
Trump had masqueraded the xenophobic ban as an essential tool to strengthen national security in order to push it through the American Supreme Court.
“To live in oppression throughout your life under the regime, and then comes a decision from a democratic state that prevents you from seeing your family,” said Asser. “It was unjust, very unjust.”
Trump’s ban also shook the faith of members of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as activists, in other countries on the list who claimed persecution by their governments but looked up to the US.
Ali Reza Assadi is an Ahvaz Arab, an ethnic minority in Iran. He said he worked as an engineer at the National Iranian Oil Company but often spoke against what he perceived as state-authorised discrimination against his community.
He feared arrest and fled to Turkey in 2014.
“We were offered the US as a resettlement nation by the UNHCR and we readily accepted it,” he told Al Jazeera from Kayseri, a city in central Anatolia.
“But our final interview date was set in March 2017. That never happened because of Trump’s ban on entry of Iranians.”
Like Asser, Ali too subscribed to values advocated by the US and wondered what made him and his children appear as a security threat.
“In my opinion, this was not a humanitarian act at all. I stood up for the rights of persecuted minorities, just as the United States says it does. How do I and my family pose a threat to US’s national security?”
Sirvan Morandi works at the Boeing factory in Seattle. He was supposed to be in the US with his entire family but Trump’s ban split them.
His father, mother, sister, and younger brother had all been cleared for travel to the US in the pre-Trump era but as new and confusing regulations on refugee flows were discussed in the federal courts, their flights were repeatedly cancelled.
Then his father died.
“We were supposed to fly to America but they cancelled our tickets again and again. Then my father died,” he told Al Jazeera from Seattle. “We were asked to apply as different family units. My aunt and I were cleared for travel but my mother and siblings are still stuck in Turkey.”
The Morandi family hails from the Yersan faith, a syncretic tradition with roots in 14-century Iran, most of whose adherents in Iraq and Iran are ethnic Kurds.
Kurds have no state of their own but are spread across the region in Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Syrian Kurds were the US’s allies in the war against the ISIL (ISIS) armed group.
Like Ali, Sirvan’s father too was an outspoken member of his community and feared arrest in Iran. His hopes were on the US but he died stateless in Turkey.
With every visa application that was cancelled or put on hold under Trump, thousands of lives were thrown into disarray, hopes dashed, and dreams of a better life ended. Biden may try to set some of it right but Trump’s legacy of an unwelcoming US might prove to be enduring.
Only 55 percent of Americans supported Biden’s decision to repeal the ban, according to an ABC-Ipsos poll. That is a slim majority and reveals much about the country Trump has left behind.
It has shown a long-hidden side of the US that may dissuade many in other countries to see it as a panacea to their troubles.
Ahmad, a Lebanese man, has been grappling with a severe economic crisis and Israeli jets flying overhead almost daily, a constant threat to the lives of his children. He said he would have liked to go to the US in search of peace and prosperity but not any more.
“Trump has gone but a lot of Americans still see Islam and Islamic peoples in a certain way that is wrong,” Ahmad said.
“We know Biden is not like Trump but whoever the leader may be, America is racist against us and that is deeply embedded.”