Locals respond to immigration ban: Shock, fear, hope

  • Demonstrators display placards during a rally against President Trump's order that restricts travel to the U.S., Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, in Boston. Trump signed an executive order Friday that bans legal U.S. residents and visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days and puts an indefinite hold on a program resettling Syrian refugees. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

Monitor staff
Published: 1/29/2017 11:28:02 PM

Maher Abbas returned from a visit to his native Iraq a couple of weeks ago.

During his trip, the owner of Wow Fried Chicken & Subs in Concord visited his brother and his 21/2-year-old niece, and Abbas spoke with them about possibly having the girl, who has a brain disorder, visit an American doctor.

Abbas began looking for doctors as soon as he returned home to Concord. But after learning about President Donald Trump’s immigration ban enacted by executive order Friday, Abbas stopped his search.

People from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia are currently not allowed to enter the United States, though federal judges in several states have issued orders blocking the government from deporting people with valid visas who arrived after Trump’s travel ban took effect.

Abbas, who has been a U.S. citizen for eight years, is one of a number of Granite Staters quietly dealing with the outcome of Trump’s order. It bans travel by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, suspends entry for all refugees for 120 days and blocks Syrian refugees indefinitely.

The ban is purported to promote national security and prevent terrorism. It has been met with airport protests, an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit and widespread denouncement.

“Our friends and family are shocked and horrified,” Evelyn Aissa said by text Sunday. Aissa is a Manchester native who met and married her husband, Ahmad, in Syria.

The couple moved from Damascus to Concord in 2011 soon after the Syrian conflict broke out, and Ahmad Aissa now runs his sit-down cafe, Aissa Sweets on Hall Street.

Ahmad Aissa still had family in Syria in the fall of 2015, when his younger brother, Ali, was bouncing between Egypt, Turkey and then Austria in an attempt to flee his war-torn country.

At the time, Ahmad Aissa told the Monitor about the uneasiness he felt for the safety and well-being of his family members.

On Sunday, Ahmad’s wife, Evelyn, said that uneasiness has settled in here, in New Hampshire.

“The ban has a direct impact on our family,” she said. She declined to share more of the specifics. “We are stressed and exhausted by all of this.”

Hubert Mask, a Pittsfield resident and president of the Islamic Society of Greater Concord, said he and his wife, Faizah, are worried about what may affect their own travel, even though they’re both U.S. citizens – Mask native-born, Faizah originally from Malaysia.

(In his executive order, Trump created an allowance for the number of countries to grow under the travel ban).

They have a 4-month-old granddaughter in Canada, Mask said, and they’re concerned about not being let back into their home country.

“We’re scared to go up to Canada right now,” he said. “They’re looking for the wrong people. It’s profiling at maximum, in my opinion.”

As for the members of his mosque, Mask said he didn’t know of anyone traveling out of the country at the moment, and most people who attend are also U.S. citizens.

Mask said he knew of only one person currently seeking citizenship, a young man from Ghana.

“Thank goodness that’s not one of the countries,” he said.

Mask said he and his wife did wonder about mosque members trying to complete Hajj, or the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. That could get complicated for people here in New Hampshire on visas, or if Saudi Arabia were added to the travel ban list.

There are people living in New Hampshire who are from some of the seven banned countries. National data shows that in 2015, 61 people from Iraq, 32 from Somalia, three from Syria, and 12 from Sudan (though none from Libya, Iran or Yemen) were resettled in New Hampshire.

Ascentria Care Alliance, which oversees refugee resettlement for New Hampshire, released a statement Friday opposing Trump’s executive action.

“We should not turn our backs on refugees who urgently need safety and assistance,” said Angela Bovill, Ascentria CEO. “We don’t fear our new neighbors who have fled for their lives – we welcome and embrace them. Refugees help make America great.”

Amid the backlash toward Friday’s immigration ban, there was some optimism. Mask applauded, for instance, a federal judge who put an emergency stay on deporting detained travelers Saturday.

And on Sunday, Mask said he and his wife were at a trade show in western Massachusetts when, as Faizah went to the restroom, another woman saw her in hijab, stopped her and asked to hug her.

“She said, ‘You guys are going through so much horrible stuff – she just started crying,’ ” Mask said.

Abbas – the Wow Fried Chicken & Subs owner – said at least he has his wife and three kids here with him. And in that way, Trump’s executive order doesn’t give him any trouble.

Asked about what may happen in the future, Abbas was hopeful.

“We’ll see,” he said. “Maybe something will change soon.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@elodie_reed. Material from the Associated Press was used in this story).

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