Braced for more troubling news, immigrants around the country nervously await version two of President Trump’s travel ban. The revised executive order is expected next week.
For many, the travel ban represents the latest manifestation of an ongoing struggle against racism and discrimination. Their heartache and frustration runs much deeper, whether the travel ban is on or off.
Trump’s initial executive order temporarily blocked entry to the U.S. for refugees and people from seven majority Muslim countries. White House officials described the effort as a “pause” in the visa programs to review any gaps in the security screening processes. Lawsuits followed, and a week after the order came out, a federal judge in Seattle put the travel ban on hold.
As the ruling came down, a few dozen immigrant leaders were meeting with Sen. Maria Cantwell at the Abu-Bakr Islamic Center in Tukwila. Their cheers were tempered. They knew this was a small step in an uphill climb.
Many of the concerns shared at the meeting go far beyond politics, a president or an executive order.
In their own words
Ifrah Hirsi, 18, senior at Foster High School and Running Start program at Highline College
"I want to tell you how I feel. I don’t feel safe. Honestly, I feel like I don’t belong here. I feel unsafe in the community even though we’re a diverse community and there are a lot of people who look like me here. I don’t feel safe. I’ve witnessed a lot of hate crimes.
"I have a lot of friends who are refugees. I don’t know what to tell them. They’re worried about their families. They’re worried what’s going to happen next.
"I’m an American citizen. I told all my friends I’m coming to this meeting with the senator. What can you say to help us feel like we belong here?"
Cantwell replied, “Tell your friends, no matter who’s in the White House, this is a country that believes in society and diversity and we’ll fight for that. We as a community are going to respond.”
Mahnaz Eshetu, executive director of Refugee Women’s Alliance, a Seattle-based non-profit organization for refugee and immigrant families
"I’m very worried about our youth and our children. Some are saying to their parents, ‘Maybe we turn off the lights so that they don’t know we are here.’ You can imagine how that stays with them when they grow up."
Others at the meeting also talked about kids not going to school out of fear, or performing poorly on schoolwork. A teacher said a 10-year-old Indian student, a citizen, worries his family will be shipped out because they’re Hindu. Several people mentioned the need for more outreach and support in local schools.
Aneelah Afzali, executive director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN)
"The source of all this ― the root problem ― is Islamophobia."
Afzali was among several people who spoke out against reported changes in a federal program called Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE. According to a Reuters report, the Trump administration wants to “revamp this program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism.”
"Targeting all of that federal law enforcement effort only on Islam really sends a horrible message," Afzali said. "To me, the message is that it's open day to go ahead and attack Muslims."
Others talked about recent improvements in community relations with FBI and local police, and worries that would deteriorate.
Nicky Smith, executive director, International Rescue Committee
“The word ‘indefinite’ for the Syrians ― that’s a really hard word. That sucks the hope out.”
Smith is referring to a section of the executive order that ended the Syrian refugee program in the U.S. indefinitely. Refugee resettlement from all countries has since resumed.
The Associated Press reports the new draft no longer bans Syrian refugees.
Rabbi Will Berkovitz, CEO of Jewish Family Service
“I know this story. This is our story. We are seeing the 1930s play back again. The fear in this room is the same fear that I was raised hearing about.
"We have to decide what the heart of our democracy is and what are the core values of this country. In the end, we have to take a stand in whatever way is possible right now.”
Diane Narasaki, executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service
"What I know from the experience of my community ― the Japanese-American community ― was that it started with the registry. It started with people who were not citizens but it ended up with citizens interned.
"Citizens in my community are extremely concerned because they know our history. We need to recognize that racism is at the root of this. In this executive order, there’s an intersection of religious bigotry and racism."
Rizwan Samad, Pakistani-American and Seattle business owner
Samad's voice broke as he spoke to the roomful of community leaders.
"To all the non-Muslim activists, I appreciate you. I take my hat off to you guys. As a Muslim, it's my pain. But you guys are part of this in our pain. This makes America more beautiful."