One week after Donald Trump was sworn in, the 45th president of the United States signed an executive order entitled Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.
The order described the new measures as a means to “keep radical Islamic terrorists” out of the US and included a ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Where's the terrorism in them? Look at them. If he doesn't go to America or a European country for medical treatment, his life will be destroyed. He will die.
While the order suspended entry for all citizens of the aforementioned countries for a total of 90 days, it went a step further by banning refugees for an additional month, at 120 days, and barred Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely.
Abdul Ghani Abdul Jawad and his family are among countless people who were affected by the travel ban. With two sick children under the age of 10 in urgent need of medical attention and revoked permission to travel and resettle in New York, the future is bleak for the Abdul Jawad family – and numerous others like them.
The way the order was rolled out created chaos within the country and for those with immediate travel plans. Airport authorities were equally as confused, unsure how to enforce the new rules as federal agencies struggled to communicate on how to move forward.
Questions raised about the ban included its constitutionality, how green card holders could legally be barred from entering the country, and whether the ban constituted a religious test.
Airport arrival halls across the country filled up with thousands of people who came to protest against the ban, helping to spark the legal movement to overturn it. Hundreds of attorneys, translators and volunteers descended upon airports across the US to help those detained upon arrival.
Many families have been separated across continents, with those from the countries affected by the ban suffering cancelled visas – all in spite of a Department of Homeland Security report obtained by the Associated Press which found insufficient evidence that citizens from the countries included in the ban posed any kind of terror threat to the US.
Fault Lines reports from the front lines of Donald Trump’s so-called Muslim ban – speaking to parents and children who’ve been separated across borders, and a family of refugees whose lives may never be the same.
By Laila Al-Arian
The video I received on my phone was disturbing. An emaciated child hooked up to a ventilator and struggling to breathe. It was sent to me by his father, a Syrian refugee in Turkey, who had been cleared to come to the U.S. but no longer could. I got in touch with Abdul Ghani Abdul Jawad, 30, a few days after Donald Trump signed an executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from coming into the U.S.
Speaking to Abdul Ghani via Whatsapp, I heard pain, desperation and urgency in his voice. He told me his family of five had been cleared to be resettled to the U.S. and were supposed to come in December, but couldn’t because at that point, his youngest child, Abdul Jawad, 2, was too sick to fly. He said the trip was later pushed back to February 1 and cancelled because of the ban. I would later find out that the circumstances were a little more complicated than that, but it was clear his situation was urgent.
He told me that his two sons, aged 6 and 2, were hospitalised because they had a rare genetic disorder, and that he wanted to bring them to the US for medical treatment as soon as possible. After we hung up, he began sending me videos, including one of his older son, Yahya, in intensive care. “I’m suffering so much,” he told me. “I’m crying for my kids.”
Soon after our call, I was on a plane to Istanbul, on my way to meet correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous and director of photography, Victor Tadashi Suarez. When we met Abdul Ghani and his wife and children at a small hospital in Istanbul, we understood why he was in such a rush to come to the US.
According to his children’s medical records, both boys had been diagnosed with a severe immunodeficiency called Omenn Syndrome. It’s also known as the “bubble boy” disease because those who suffer from it are very vulnerable to infectious diseases and need to be kept in immaculately clean conditions. It can be cured with a bone marrow transplant, a costly and risky operation that is not easily available to Syrians in Turkey, let alone refugees with few means. The small hospital the children were staying in was not very clean. We saw bloodstained pillowcases and sheets, and their small, stuffy room reeked of bodily fluids. It was also ill-equipped to deal with children. There was no pediatrics unit and Yahya was the only child being treated in an ICU for adults.
As he sat on a hospital bed with two of his children on his lap, Abdul Ghani told us that the family had a short window of time in January to make it over to the US while both children were well enough to travel. But then their trip was cancelled. Days later, he says, his older son Yahya’s health took a turn for the worse. For the family, it became a race against time. Their only hope now was for Yahya’s health to improve enough so he could fly to the US for treatment.
To Abdul Ghani, the Trump administration’s justification that the ban is necessary for national security, a claim that was dismissed in at least two leaked Department of Homeland Security reports, doesn’t make any sense. “Those kids have nothing to do with terrorism,” he said. “Are they terrorists? Look at them. If [my son] doesn’t go to America or a European country for medical treatment, his life will be destroyed. He will die.”
One of the videos Abdul Ghani sent me was of his two sons on an indoor kiddie ride, a colourful car that swayed back and forth under dull fluorescent lights. The video was taken during a healthier time. A smiling Yahya is seen twisting a wheel with one hand, while his other arm rested around his brother’s neck. The video was eerily similar to one I had taken of my two young sons at an indoor amusement park in Istanbul a year before, bringing tears to my eyes. I was overcome with a feeling familiar to many parents, that the universal love we have for our children transcends citizenship. And borders. And religion.
Our Fault Lines film, “The Ban”, tells the story of the Abdul Jawad family, along with others affected by the executive order. It makes it clear that for some, the consequences of the Trump administration’s policy to temporarily ban entire nations from entering the country, are a matter of life and death.