On Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that proved his commitment to promises made on the campaign trail. He cited the need to protect Americans from individuals who he feels pose a high terror threat — specifically “radical Islamic terrorists.”
The order titled ““Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States,” was signed, suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and banning individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The countries affected included: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
When the news of the travel ban broke out at Kent State, Ayham Abuzeid did his best to inform, educate and offer support for students originally from the seven banned countries. He commended the university on its quick response to the ban, citing president Beverly Warren’s letter to the student population, the English as a second language department’s email to students and the office of global education’s widespread letter.
“We got all of these assuring emails that you are welcome, you are safe,” Abuzeid said. “It felt supportive.”
Abuzeid is a Kent State professor from Aleppo. In 2006 he left this home to study at Kent State on a Fulbright scholarship. He had to leave his father, mother and 71 cousins, but his education was sustained while teaching English as a second language.
Currently, Abuzeid teaches and advises Arabic speaking students at Kent State while finishing his PhD. in international relation studies. He is a green card holder, with permanent residency in the U.S.
“A lot of people have canceled flights and changed dates,” Abuzeid said. “For me personally, if by summer the ban is still as is, I will not be doing any international traveling and I already have plans to go to Spain and Turkey.”
According to Abuzeid, many student travel plans happen during the summer when they have the opportunity to fly home. With this travel ban, many students could cancel plans in the case they’d never be allowed back into the U.S.
The week following the ban of individuals from the seven countries was marred with contrasting reactions. Mass protests broke out across the country, while Trump and Republicans consistently defended the order. Eventually on Feb. 3, U.S. District Court Judge James Robart blocked the ban nationwide. On Feb. 9, a three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision to halt the travel ban.
Despite the overturn of the executive order, the aftershocks from its effects haven’t gone away.
Liz Walters, the community outreach director at the International Institute of Akron, has worked at the refugee resettlement and immigrant services agency for little over a year. The organization offers a variety of services, from English classes to assistance in obtaining a visa. They also serve refugees for their first 90-days in the U.S.
Walters said that the agency represents countries like Bhutan, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, she estimates that in the last 10 years, they’ve resettled about 500 individuals from the seven banned countries.
After the Ninth Circuit’s Feb. 9 ruling, Walters said while the agency has resettled three Iranian refugee families, there are still several people scheduled for arrival in Akron whose plans had to be cancelled.
Walters explained that refugees who are resettled in the U.S. have to go through an extensive 15-step security process that can take 18 months to two years to get through. The steps include three in-person individual and family interviews, background checks from every U.S. federal agency and eye retina scans.
She said that those who were in the middle of the 15-step process — or had travel plans cancelled — will have expired paperwork. This means they have to start the application process over again, which will lead to two more years of waiting for refuge.
“When bodies don’t move — when refugees don’t come in, money doesn’t move,” Walters said. “And so it’s a huge strain on our program, on our system, on our staff. The support we get from the federal government not only enables us to serve those who have yet to come in, but to continue to grant service to clients who are her now. That’s been very challenging for us. We actually had to do layoffs last week of staff to reduce the size of our team overall.”
In addition to staff reduction, she said that Trump’s decision to cap the Obama administration’s proposal of 110,000 refugee admissions to 50,000 limits the work the International Institute of Akron is able to do. The agency expected to resettle 700 to 750 people this year. Now, she said, they’d be lucky to help 250.
“No city across country — no metro area — is growing without increasing dramatically the residents in their community who were born in another country. Immigrants are a critical part of the development,” Walters said.
That thought stands in stark contrast to President Trump’s assertion that the executive order was the best way to prevent terrorism in the U.S. With examples of incidents like the San Bernardino attack and Boston Marathon Bombing, the order seems like a logical step.
However, Walters pointed out that the last time there was a halt on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program was the day after 9/11. The cancellation lasted for six months, and since then there have been zero instances of terrorism from individuals who came to the U.S. through the refugee program. There’s also been no fatal terror attacks from immigrants in the seven banned countries in the last 40 years.
“They come here to work hard and have a better future and as Americans that’s something we all value. We should be embracing not being scared of,” she said.
For people like Abuzeid, fear is an unfortunate part of reality, something that’s only become clearer under the Trump administration.
He described traveling throughout countries as a Syrian man as “uncomfortable” even before 911. One time, he waited for airport screening for over four hours before he was admitted into the country. Another time, an airport screening officer in Japan asked what religion he practiced.
He’s also been asked: “Have you recently joined a terrorist organization?” and “Have you traveled to Afghanistan or Pakistan in the last 30 days?” despite a clear read on his passport.
“As long as my passport reads, ‘born in Syria,’ I know that I will be met with hassles,” Abuzeid said.
It’s unclear what will happen as the ban is edited by president Trump in the upcoming months. Even in the last 24 hours, president Trump’s advisors have urged the removal of Iraq from the now-paused ban.
The ever-evolving ruling on entering and exiting the country leaves students, professors, community members and professionals uncertain of what lies ahead.