At Syrian bakery in Concord, Shaheen vows to fight Trump’s refugee ban

  • Senator Jeanne Shaheen meets with local Syrian businessman Ahmad Aissa at his Hall Street store in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/3/2017 5:35:52 PM

Greeting Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen with a huge smile on Friday, Concord businessman Ahmad Aissa confessed he’d always had a hunch about her last name.

“Shaheen!” the owner of Aissa Sweets exclaimed in his Syrian accent, saying her name sounded Lebanese, the country bordering his homeland.

“My husband is Lebanese, you know,” Shaheen said, adding that plenty of people mistake her name for the more Irish-sounding “Sheehan.”

Aissa and Shaheen met in his restaurant amid difficult circumstances for the Concord baker; even though his business is doing well, his thoughts are often with his mother, father and younger siblings who are still living in war-torn Syria.

With President Trump’s recent travel ban on seven countries including Syria, and a four-month pause on refugees entering the country, Aissa’s family now faces a much steeper set of challenges to travel to the United States and see him, even just for a visit.

He moved to New Hampshire with his wife Evelyn – a native of Manchester – back in 2011, just a few months after the Syrian civil war broke out. 

“I wish it was possible that my brother or my sister can come to the country here to live, or even visit for a duration,” he said. “I feel that’s not possible now.”

Aissa said he is especially worried about his younger brother and sister, who are college-aged but cannot attend college because of the civil war in their country. He often thinks of his mother, who is working long hours to try to support their family.

“I was hoping to improve my financial situation and concentrate on my business and making it better, so I can support someone coming in here, particularly my mom because it’s very horrible out there,” he said. “At least to have my mother visit me, that will brighten my life.”

Aissa added the local community in New Hampshire has been “wonderful” and very supportive since the ban went into effect late last week.

On Monday, officials from refugee resettlement organizations Ascentria Care Alliance and International Institute of New England said the ban had an immediate impact on 15 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burma, including children, who were due to start arriving in New Hampshire cities next week. Dozens more refugees in the pipeline would also be affected, they said.

“There’s a direct impact here in the Concord community,” said Democratic state Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord. “The feeling of the refugee community in particular is one of fear.”

Shaheen, who has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s executive order, said she would continue to fight it in the U.S. Senate.

“It’s un-American, it’s inconsistent with our values, our history of immigrants in this country, who helped build this country,” Shaheen said. “It was so poorly implemented, incompetent really. And it doesn’t improve our national security. It doesn’t help us on any front.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, and on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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