As protests rage over travel ban, families snared still in shock
For the second day in a row after President Trump signed an executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, protesters gathered by the hundreds and flooded their local airports.
Amid weekend protests in cities all over the country, families across New Jersey are feeling shock waves following a sweeping order from President Trump to bar refugees and nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
A woman from Lodi learned that her husband, from Yemen, who had his green card approved just last week after a two-year wait, will not be able to join her.
A Rutgers Ph.D. student who went to visit her ill mother in Syria was stopped on her way back during a Paris layover and barred from returning to Newark.
A U.S. citizen from Jersey City said the U.S. Embassy on Saturday had canceled a visa interview next month with his wife, a Syrian woman living in Turkey, who has been waiting to join him for a year and a half. It was supposed to be the last step before getting her visa.
"She is living in Turkey alone with three children. Her life is being suspended. Her life has been on hold waiting for the moment to be reunited," said the man, Marwan, who wanted only his first name used for fear that speaking to the press would hurt her case.
And the stories keep coming.
Nadia Kahf, an immigration attorney in Haledon, said she had received about two dozen calls and emails from clients confused and distraught over the order, which bans U.S. entry by residents of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for three months. The order, signed Friday, suspends the entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days and halts the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely.
Trump said the order would help make Americans safer by keeping out "radical Islamic terrorists" from countries with terrorism until he can put a system of "extreme vetting" in place. Critics, though, say vetting is already rigorous and that the ban may be unconstitutional.
Trump's order is even more sweeping than early reports suggested, covering green-card holders and dual citizens, along with visitors, business travelers and students.
"Obviously, everyone is completely shocked," Kahf said. "People are saying, 'Is this even legal?' I didn't realize how horrible this was and how discriminatory – I didn't realize the impact until I started getting these calls from clients."
She and other immigration attorneys are advising people to stay put.
"I am telling my clients that if you are from one of seven countries on the list and you are a student or you have a green card, do not leave the United States under any circumstances until we see how this plays out," she said.
'When are we going with you?'
Marwan, a Jersey City resident, said he had a religious marriage with his wife, had applied for a fiancee visa, and planned to have an official marriage ceremony in the U.S. shortly after her arrival. They had produced hundreds of pages for her visa application to prove their relationship, including photos, financial records and copies of messages and chats to each other from the WhatsApp messaging program.
He loves her three children – two daughters ages 10 and 11 and a 4-year-old boy – as his own, he said in an interview from Turkey, where he was visiting his wife when the news about the ban broke.
"The children are too young. I wish I could have an explanation for our boy. I wish I could make things understandable to him. He keeps asking me, 'Baba, when are we going with you? Baba, why do you keep leaving?'" he recalled, using the Arabic word "baba" for father.
He said it hurt him to watch their efforts unravel when Trump signed the order, knowing there was nothing he could do about it.
"It was devastating, of course, and it made me wonder, it made me doubt the very essence of the U.S. democracy," he said.
Leila Amirhamzeh of Hackensack, director of development at New Jersey Citizen Action, said the ban is a huge concern for her and her family of Iranian heritage. Her father, a U.S. citizen, and her uncle, a green-card holder, planned to go to Iran after the recent death of her grandmother, but now they are unsure of what they will do.
“He is still wondering what to do, there is so much concern and a lot of confusion,’’ she said. “He feels very uncomfortable and other Persian friends and family have the same concerns.”
Trump's executive order led Iran to ban U.S. citizens from its country, according to news reports.
“Such a harsh action on the part of this president is not only contrary to what this country stands for, but it has also stoked fear and anger around the world,’’ Amirhamzeh said .
Amirhamzeh, who volunteers to teach English to recently arrived Syrian students, said her pupils have expressed fear of what’s to come.
“They are very scared and feel very unwelcome here in the U.S.,’’ she said.
“It’s so very upsetting, especially in the wake of last week’s march to promote unity and inclusion and speak out against discriminatory practices like this that are fundamental challenges to what America is supposed to represent,’’ added Amirhamzeh, who attended the Women’s March on Washington last weekend.
Protests erupted across the country at airports over the ban, as lawyers rushed to aid those being detained, while the American Civil Liberties Union and several other groups have filed lawsuits challenging the ban. On Saturday night, a federal court judge in Brooklyn granted a partial stay that prevents people affected by the ban, who are already on the ground, from being deported. But individuals abroad may still be denied entry into the country.
Asaad Aref, who was born in Syria and now lives in Clifton, said his niece, a former Lyndhurst resident, last week left Saudi Arabia, where she and her husband have been living because of work. Aref said his niece is a Syrian citizen, with a permanent U.S residency and is in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
“Now with this man [Trump], that means she can’t come back to see the family,’’ he said. “She has a green card. We are worried about that.”
Aref, a registered Republican, said he had voted for Hillary Clinton. He said the ban can have serious consequences for the U.S.
“He’s hurting this country rather than helping it,’’ Aref said. “The U.S. has troops in Syria and Iraq. How are you going to explain it if they turn around and say that they don’t want U.S. citizens there, like Iran did today? He is a bully and Congress has to stop these ridiculous executive orders.”
Contributing: Marsha A Stoltz and Patricia Alex