A Somali-American Muslim Explains How the Travel Ban Ruling Will Affect Her
In recent weeks, Hamdia Ahmed has been thinking a lot about her experience as a refugee. Her family escaped the civil war in Somalia in 1997 and crossed the border to settle into a camp in Kenya. She was just a few weeks old at the time.
“My parents had to leave everything behind,” Ahmed, now 20, told Broadly. “You’re starting all over with nothing but food provided by the UN and plastic shelters. It was very difficult. My mom literally had me while she was escaping … no medication, no hospital, nothing. People told her, ‘You’re not going to survive. You need to leave this child and abandon her. You need to run for your life.’ She was like, ‘No, I’m going to keep all my five kids together.’”
Ahmed is now a college student and aspiring model living in Portland, Maine, who dreams of working for the UN one day. (Last year, she spoke in front of the global organization to advocate for more education funding for refugee children.) After spending seven years in the Kenyan camp, her family qualified for refugee resettlement status through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and moved to the United States in 2005. She still has an uncle and cousins waiting to immigrate here; her grandmother was also planning to join them, but passed away last month.
Whether or not Ahmed will ever be reunited with her extended family, however, is now uncertain: On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s latest ban on travel from several Muslim-majority nations, including Somalia. “I’m outraged,” Ahmed said about the ruling, adding, “This isn’t [about] national security; it’s about an anti-Muslim agenda.”
In a 5-4 vote, the Court decided that the president “has lawfully exercised the broad discretion … to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States.” The ban, issued as a presidential proclamation last September, also restricts nationals from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and North Korea from traveling to the US. (The nation of Chad was originally included on that list but later removed.)
The White House has called the court’s decision a “tremendous victory,” while human rights advocates and protestors have come out in full force against it. Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called Tuesday’s ruling “an invitation to inject discrimination back into our immigration system.”
“More than half a century ago, Congress abandoned a racist immigration system that preferred some races over others,” Awad said in a statement, referring to the country’s horrific treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. “This decision is an abandonment of that milestone. The Muslim Ban’s bigotry should have been as clear to the Supreme Court as it is to the Muslims demonized by it. Apparently, everyone but the Supreme Court can see the decision for what it is: an expression of animosity.”
Ryan Mace, a refugee advocate at Amnesty International USA, explained in a statement how the travel ban will particularly impact people seeking refuge in the US—such as Ahmed’s family. “This hateful policy is a catastrophe all around—not only for those who simply want to travel, work, or study here in the States, but for those seeking safety from violence as well,” he said. “While this decision doesn’t address the separate and equally harmful ban on refugees, it cruelly traps people in conflict-afflicted countries and prevents them from seeking safety in the US or being reunited with family.”
That’s one of Ahmed’s greatest concerns now: If her uncle and cousins will ever get approval to leave the refugee camp in Kenya—where she said “really bad things” happen—and join the rest of their family here in the US. While the recent Supreme Court ruling isn’t related to refugee resettlement, the ban will certainly further delay the process. Ahmed’s family has already waited more than 10 years.
On Tuesday evening, she helped organize a #StandWithMuslims rally at Portland City Hall, where about 100 people showed up. “I really want my family—not just my family but other families too—to be reunited,” Ahmed said. “I see the pain that my mother goes through, and other families when they make phone calls back home. It’s so devastating.”
Thanks to the harmful, anti-Muslim rhetoric being touted by the president and his supporters, Ahmed said that many travel ban proponents believe Muslims are coming to the US to cause trouble. “We’re not,” she said. “We’re here to be Americans and to follow the American dream to make better lives for our family and our kids. We just want to be a part of the American dream. If you’re denying us that based on our religion, then that’s discrimination, and I don’t think that’s what America stands for.”