Detroit Free Press
Muslims and Arab Americans in metro Detroit cheered the repeal of the Muslim travel ban Wednesday by the administration of President Joe Biden, a move they hope will signal a change in how the U.S. government deals with their communities.
“It’s long overdue,” said Abdulhakem Alsadah, president of the Dearborn-based National Association of Yemeni-Americans and chair of the Yemeni American Civil Rights Coalition.
“We’re excited. Imagine being separated from your family for so long. … It’s been truly tough for us, especially the Yemeni-Americans. This releases us from a lot of agony.”
Biden repealed former President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban late Wednesday, signing forms in the Oval Office.
Michigan, which has one of the largest Middle Eastern populations in the U.S. and a growing African immigrant community, was hit especially hard by the administration of the previous president, which had issued orders and made other changes that cracked down on immigration.
Shortly after taking office four 4 years ago this month, Trump signed what became known as the Muslim travel ban, greatly restricting entry from several nations that were majority Arab and Muslim. The ban sparked protests at Detroit Metro Airport and other airports across the U.S.
The original list included Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and was changed over the past few years amid a flurry of legal challenges. Iraq was later dropped, but countries such as Nigeria were added at some point. The Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2018.
Hamtramck Community and Economic Development Coordinator Hassan Sheikh of West Bloomfield leads a group of people gathered at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit on Tuesday, June 26, 2018 in a chant while protesting the Supreme Court ruling that morning upholding the travel ban on travelers from several majority-Muslim nations by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Metro Detroit has a sizable population of people with roots in Syria and Yemen, which were included in the ban. Trump also cracked down on the number of refugees allowed in the U.S., which added to challenges for thousands in Michigan trying to connect with families, friends, to study and visit.
Alsadah and others added that repealing the Muslim ban is just one step that is needed to restore their faith in the U.S. government.
“It won’t solve the whole problem,” Alsadah said. He’s hoping that the U.S. can reopen an embassy office in Yemen, which has been shut because of a civil war that has dragged on for six years. Another challenge for now is the coronavirus crisis, which has led to travel restrictions. And so the repeal of the ban won’t lead to immediate changes in terms of increased immigrant flows.
Other advocates in Arab-American and Muslim communities also praised the repeal of the ban.
“We hope that this signals a change in how the Oval Office deals with the American Muslim community,” said Dawud Walid, who leads the Michigan chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
The travel ban prevented groups such as refugees from coming to the U.S. With Syria and Yemen often at war over the past four years, that prevented them from being admitted to the U.S.
“People who were fleeing bombing and violence in Syria and Yemen did not have the opportunity to have the processing of visas to come to America, at least the vast majority of them,” Walid said.
“We can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Nada Alhanooti, executive director of Emgage Michigan, a branch of Emgage Action, which advocates for Muslims in politics. “It takes a lot of weight off our shoulders. For the Muslim community in Dearborn, where I’m from, it literally hit home. We saw Yemenis being deported, we had” some restaurants targeted by ICE.
She added there remains “still a lot of work to do” to help the Muslim community regain their rights and trust given Trump’s inflammatory remarks made about Muslims and other minority groups. Trump once referred to certain nations as “shithole” countries.
Over the past four years, Emgage Michigan has been lobbying to get the Muslim travel ban repealed, meeting 12 times with elected officials.
People listen to a speaker while protesting the Supreme Court ruling upholding the travel ban on travelers from several majority-Muslim nations by President Donald Trump’s administration at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.
State Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, also praised the repeal, saying in a statement: “Today, we begin the work of undoing the xenophobic, inhumane policies of the Trump administration. But, we have so much more work to do to repair the deep wounds and pain inflicted by Trump. The work to make families whole again is just getting started.”
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Detroit, said in a statement: “This ban has separated many families and has brought deep despair to many. The Muslim and African ban was not based on any legitimate concern, but instead was rooted in the hate that we must continue to adamantly reject in order for this country to move forward.”
Tlaib called for the House and Senate to pass legislation dubbed the No Ban Act that would prevent any future presidents from enacting a similar ban.
Biden also signed an order Wednesday tightening protections for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, the children of undocumented immigrants. Michigan has a number of DACA immigrant recipients who have been anxious about their status over the past years. The Washington Post has reported that Biden is looking to offer a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants and farmworkers.
“It’s a moment for us to celebrate,” Saad said of the repeal of the ban and Muslims being named to Biden administration. “We were embraced and included and brought into the process. And we are already seeing appointments” from the Muslim community” at some pretty high levels.”
Fayrouz Saad, Executive Director of Global Michigan, speaks with Emgage Action in online discussion on Jan. 19, 2021, about Muslim issues and the Biden presidency. Emgage applauded the end of the Muslim travel ban. Photo is of Zoom meeting.
“It’s really important that we … celebrate and give ourselves a pat on the back and really appreciate what we’ve accomplished,” Saad said of Muslim-American political participation. “This is why engaging in the process matters.”
In his inaugural address, Biden touched upon the issue of bigotry against minority religions, saying that Americans who are suffering economically should not turn to hatred against others.
“The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you or worship the way you do,” Biden said.
On its website early Wednesday, the Biden-Harris transition team said the ban was “a policy rooted in religious animus and xenophobia.”
Biden signed an Executive Action that “repeals Proclamations 9645 and 9983, which restrict entry into the United States from primarily Muslim and African countries.”
Biden’s action “instructs the State Department to restart visa processing for affected countries and to swiftly develop a proposal to restore fairness and remedy the harms caused by the bans, especially for individuals stuck in the waiver process and those who had immigrant visas denied,” the Biden-Harris transition team said. “This is an important step in providing relief to individuals and families harmed by this Trump Administration policy that is inconsistent with American values.”
Trump has said the ban was done to protect Americans from terrorism. His administration said that removing it would allow extremists to enter.
But the Biden administration said on the Biden-Harris website that the Biden’s executive action “provides for the strengthening of screening and vetting for travelers by enhancing information sharing with foreign governments and capacity building with our partners, and directs reviews of other Trump Administration ‘extreme vetting’ practices.”
Alsadah, a leader in the Yemeni-American community, said he hopes the repeal can be the start of changes to help them.
“For years, we have suffered a great deal and we have been trying to make our case,” he said. “Most people don’t know about it. We have had thousands of people separated from their families in Yemen.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo:[email protected] or 313-223-4792. Twitter