Here’s some advice you wouldn’t typically expect from the owner of a travel agency.
“If you don’t have to travel, please don’t travel — because it’s just going to be nightmare,” said Rizwan Samad, owner of New Wave Travel in Seattle’s University District.
President Donald Trump put a fresh spin on his temporary travel ban this week, but Muslims in the Seattle area, including Samad, still see a host of problems.
Samad’s an American citizen who immigrated here from Pakistan in the mid '80s. Like many of his clients, he’s also Muslim.
A lot of people have followed Samad’s advice since the initial travel ban came out in late January.
“People were cancelling their tickets left and right, especially people with Muslim names,” Samad said.
And not just people from the restricted countries, Samad added. He’s had cancelations from people born in the U.S., Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many other countries. And many who did travel abroad returned with stories about humiliating, lengthy interrogations at the border that sometimes led to missed flights or canceled trips.
Samad expects the situation will continue, despite modifications in the travel ban. A new version of Trump’s executive order scales back some measures that were challenged in court. It still aims to temporarily halt new visas for refugees and people from six primarily Muslim countries.
White House officials say the travel pause is needed to review security procedures. The order is set to take effect March 16.
A federal judge in Seattle put a restraining order on the original travel ban after lawsuits claimed it discriminated based on religion and nationality and violated various constitutional rights.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson says his office has concerns about this revised executive order signed March 6, and his office will likely decide on a legal response later this week.
Syrians and refugees still in limbo
The new order removes the previous indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, but it suspends all refugee resettlement in the U.S. for four months.
“People are stuck,” said Rita Zawaideh, CEO of SCM Medical Services, a Seattle-based nonprofit that assists Syrian refugees overseas and in the Northwest.
“People here don’t know if their other family members can come in or not – the other family members that were not able to come with them are waiting to be vetted,” Zawaideh said.
Approximately 250 Syrian refugees have resettled in Washington state since the conflict started in that country. Zawaideh says some wonder if they are still welcome or safe in the U.S., especially several families who’ve been placed in the Spokane area.
“They’re afraid to open their doors,” Zawaideh said. “They have asked that we get them cell phones because the kids are taking public transportation to get to school and they’re very afraid. They want their kids to be able to call if there are any problems.”
The order also reduces the annual number of refugees allowed in the U.S. by more than half, from 110,000 to 50,000.
Sarah Peterson, chief of the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance in Washington state, said the state aims to bring in 3,800 refugees in fiscal year 2017, including Iraqis and Afghans on special immigrant visas because of their assistance to the U.S. government. So far, 1,969 people have arrived – slightly more than half the total expected.
Peterson says it’s difficult to predict if the state would still, eventually, be able to meet its goal.
“Many people currently authorized to travel may lose their clearances during that four-month suspension,” Peterson said. “I’m not sure that we can predict what arrivals will look like after the suspension.”
Afraid to travel
Rizwan Samad, who typically enjoys the fringe benefits of a travel agency, says he’ll also stay put for now rather than face interrogation at the border like he did after the September 11 attacks.
“Detained in a room and harassing and questioning for hours and hours,” he recalled.
He said U.S. customs officials once asked him repeatedly about a previous trip to Pakistan and whether he'd met Osama bin Laden.
This should be the busy season at Samad's travel agency, but business is way down. He knows some immigrants are saving or putting their money elsewhere, including toward property in Canada or back in their home country.
“We never know when we have to go back. The fear factor is really, really high.”