A briefing paper released by the CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) at CUNY School of Law in partnership with Amnesty International documents the devastating effects of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban on individuals and families hailing from the seven Muslim-majority countries targeted by the executive order. The ban, temporarily halted by multiple US courts, is slated for judicial review before two federal courts of appeals.
“Trump has proven that his bigoted threat to ban Muslims from the US was not mere campaign rhetoric,” said Ramzi Kassem, Director of CLEAR. “Whatever happens in the courts, people of conscience everywhere must continue to denounce this shocking expression of official prejudice. Anyone who might think this policy reasonable should read these firsthand accounts.”
My Family Was in Shock: The Harms Caused by President Trump’s Executive Orders on Travel to the US is a joint initiative of CLEAR and Amnesty International. When the first executive order was in effect, law students and attorneys at CLEAR provided legal advice to hundreds of immigrants and refugees who were stranded abroad, on their way to the US, or detained at US airports. Its staff referred some of these people for interviews by Amnesty International, and contributed additional information and analysis about the impact of the executive order.
The resulting paper amplifies the experiences of those directly affected by the Muslim ban, using 12 case studies based on over 30 interviews. It describes how the ban violated international human rights law and treaties binding upon the United States. Importantly, these accounts illustrate the chaos wreaked upon refugees, immigrants and US citizens alike in the wake of the Muslim ban’s implementation. The revised version of the executive order does not allay concerns, as a federal court in Hawaii has already held.
“We witnessed firsthand the confusion, heartache, and trauma that the executive order caused people of every stripe traveling into and out of the country,” said Tarek Z. Ismail, Senior Staff Attorney at CLEAR, who worked with dozens of families affected by the ban. “Individuals and their families were forced to make impossible decisions at the drop of a hat.”
Amina F. (not her real name), a Sudanese green card holder, discontinued her dissertation research when she heard the ban was likely to be issued, and rushed home to the US. “I didn’t want to risk being stuck outside the country, and then potentially losing my opportunity to get citizenship,” she told researchers. When she arrived at JFK, Amina was held for five hours, questioned intensively, and handcuffed. “[W]hen I was handcuffed I started crying, not because of the handcuffs, but because I thought at that moment that I probably was going to get deported or detained or something like that.”
Baraa H. (not his real name) and his wife felt forced to leave their baby daughter in the care of friends and hurry back to the United States, fearing that they may later be barred because of their Yemeni citizenship. “It was a very cruel choice, but what could I have done? I had no other choice.”
Others were forcibly separated without any choice. Suleiman (not his real name) a doctor from Sudan, was separated from his wife, and their four-month old daughter. The family had gone to Qatar to show off their new-born and Suleiman came back early for work. When the travel ban was issued, his Sudanese wife and daughter were stuck. “It was a big ordeal for both of us,” Suleiman said. “We didn’t know what the end result would be.”
While the immediate effects of the executive order were quickly interrupted by the courts, the Muslim ban’s impact reverberated throughout communities across the US and abroad.
Yasmin F. (not her real name), a US citizen of Iranian origin, recounted the ordeal her family went through in attempting to travel to the US from Iran during the period of the first executive order. “The executive order impacts all of us. Even as a citizen, I’m wary of traveling; I’m afraid of having problems at the airport.”
Another US citizen of Iranian descent expressed a similar sentiment. “It was heartbreaking,” she told our researchers, as her voice choked up. “Overnight I went from feeling American to feeling like an invader in my own country.”
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