Oxfam’s Isra Chaker speaks out about the new iteration of President Trump’s travel ban, what it means, and what the human impact of the ban will be.
On Sunday, hours before portions of the March 6th executive order was set to expire, President Trump signed a new travel ban restricting travel from five of the original Muslim-majority countries from the ban: Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia, and adding three new countries: Chad, North Korea and Venezuela. Sudan has been dropped from the ban and replaced by Chad, and North Korea and Venezuela are the first countries added that do not have Muslim majority populations. Iraq has also been dropped from the list. The new travel ban is set to go into effect on October 18th.
To make matters worse, the Trump administration just announced that the US will only accept 45,000 refugees in the next 12 months – the lowest refugee admission cap in the history of the US refugee resettlement program. Such a decision is nearly inconceivable at a time when millions of refugees around the world remain trapped in legal limbo. The administration’s decision slams the door on thousands of vulnerable refugees who’ve fled for their lives and who need a safe place to call home.
I am Syrian-American, and the majority of my family still lives in Syria. I haven’t seen them since the war started over 6 years ago, and because of the ban, I cannot be sure when I will see them again. I got married last year; and growing up I envisioned hundreds of my family members being there surrounding me on my wedding day dancing with my uncles, and taking selfies with my cousins. But due to the conflict and to the US’s restrictive immigration policy, my dream was crushed and my reality altered. None of them were able to come.
My American citizenship has essentially saved me from experiencing the war and traumatic conditions my extended family has had to endure. All I want to do is rescue them from the conditions they are living in and bring them to my home in the US – the home I have known for all of my 26 years – so they can finally find relief and begin rebuilding their lives in peace. But I can’t do that. The Trump administration’s Travel Ban prevents my extended family from ever entering the US. It shuts down my dreams of being reunited as a family whether permanently or for a short visit.
When we talk about the travel ban, we are talking about decisions that impact real people. People who have lost their homes, loved ones, and stability. People who are fleeing the most unimaginable circumstances possible – violence, persecution, not knowing when a barrel bomb is going to hit their home, the terror of having to cross the sea in a dinghy just to reach some semblance of security. The fear of not knowing when you will have a stable roof over your head again, or when your children will be able to go back to school, and so much more. It’s like living a nightmare.
The new travel ban is an affront to American values and traditions. It erases and disregards the lived experience of people in the United States, and it ignores the US history of welcoming immigrants and refugees, no matter where they come from.
The travel restrictions on the only two non-Muslim majority countries – North Korea and Venezuela – are symbolic. In the last year, only 110 visas total were issued to visitors from North Korea, and the restrictions on Venezuela only apply to government officials, not the broader population. Since these restrictions have little to do with the travel ban, or with immigrant and refugee vetting, it is likely that they were added to undermine the legal arguments being prepared for court that challenge the travel ban on the basis of religious discrimination. The use of North Korea and Venezuela to distract from the impact of the travel ban to discriminate against Muslims is abhorrent and unacceptable.
As Americans, many of us are lucky enough to never have experienced what it feels like to live in a war-torn country, with little to no electricity, or having to conserve one tank of water for several people for months. But now is the time to reach out with compassion and speak out for people who are simply looking for opportunities to build safe and productive lives for themselves and their families.
The United States is a multicultural and pluralistic homeland. It’s who we are. We must remember our American values of compassion, hospitality, and perseverance as we join together in demanding the US do its part to meet global needs and standing against measures like the travel ban which seek to legalize discrimination.