Hassan, 25, a Somali native who had been living with his mother in a Kenyan refugee camp, didn’t want to leave her behind when he left on Jan. 20, 2017, to be resettled in Columbus, but he was assured she would be days behind him.
Hassan couldn’t have known that the country where he was going was changing, and that just a week after he arrived in the United States, newly inaugurated President Donald Trump would announce an executive order that would change his life.
The order is commonly referred to as a “Muslim travel ban” because it suspended people from seven mostly Muslim countries, including Somalia, from entering the United States for 90 days and stopped the refugee program for 120 days.
Now, more than a year later, Hassan still doesn’t know when his mother will join him.
Hassan and his mother are among many families affected by Trump’s first ban, and the two others that have followed.
Last week, local agencies and organizations marked the anniversary of the ban to raise public awareness and remind people that the issue hasn’t gone away.
When she heard about the ban a year ago, Nadia Kasvin, co-founder and director of US Together, a central Ohio refugee resettlement agency, and her staff began calling local refugee families to let them know their relatives wouldn’t be arriving.
“It was really devastating, really heartbreaking to tell them their family wouldn’t be coming,” and they didn’t know when they might be able to come, Kasvin said.
The Obama administration had set a goal for fiscal year 2017 of admitting 110,000 refugees. The Trump administration reduced that number to 50,000, lowering the cap to 45,000 for the current fiscal year. The State Department says this reduction is needed to make time for more vetting and to process a backlog of asylum applications from people already inside the United States.
Four months into the current fiscal year, resettlement groups anticipate fewer refugees will be allowed in the country than the 45,000 that Trump has said can come. The International Rescue Committee, for example, projects that 21,292 will be resettled by the time the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
Part of the reason for doubting the target will be hit, Kasvin said, is that twice as many refugees already should have come to the country so far in order to meet the cap.
From Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, only about 5,300 refugees arrived in the country, far short of the 11,250 that should have come in the first quarter, she said. If a similar number resettles each quarter, only about 21,200 refugees would be resettled by the end of the fiscal year, not the 45,000 Trump promised, Kasvin said.
“Every time these policies change, the refugee process is halted, and it’s not easy for them to pick it back up,” said Jennifer Nimer, a lawyer and executive director of the Columbus chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. Health and other screenings expire and have to be redone, setting the travel and visa process back even further, she said.
The first two iterations of the ban listing countries whose citizens couldn’t enter were later challenged in federal courts and have expired. The third, which was issued in September and also barred North Koreans and Venezuelan officials, was allowed by the Supreme Court in December to go into effect while legal challenges against it continue. The nation’s top court is expected to take up the matter in April. Until then, it remains in effect.
The reasoning Trump cites for the bans has been consistent: security threats and the need to prevent terrorists from entering the country.
In the first ban, Trump pointed to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and said the subsequent review of the visa process didn’t do enough to stop similar attacks from foreigners entering the country.
“Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program,” the president wrote in the first executive order.
Data compiled by The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and The Center for Investigative Reporting looked at 201 terrorist incidents in the U.S. from 2008-2016, tracking attacks that were carried out as well as plots that were foiled. There were 115 cases involving right-wing extremists ― from white supremacists to militias to “sovereign citizens” ― and 63 cases involving Islamist extremists. Another 19 cases were attributed to left-wing extremists, such as animal-rights proponents and eco-terrorists.
The analysis also showed that the main source of terrorism-type attacks during that time were white American males.
Nimer likewise pointed out there has been no data to show the countries included in Trump’s ban “are a particular threat.”
“There’s not any legitimate reason we should bar groups of people from uniting with family members,” she said.
Very few people from the restricted countries have been able to come in through waivers, Nimer said. It’s an option the Supreme Court allowed for refugees after the second ban was challenged. The waiver process has not been explained, which has left refugees and their attorneys struggling to figure out how to apply or what should be included in the applications. Waivers are granted at the discretion of consulates, Nimer said.
Further complicating the plight of refugees and resettlement agencies is Trump’s recently proposed immigration plan that would limit family-based immigration.
“It’s been kind of an evolving issue as things have changed,” Nimer said. “It’s still at this point separating families.”
Community Refugee and Immigration Services, a refugee resettlement agency in Columbus, hosted an event to commemorate the first ban’s anniversary on Jan. 31.
Refugees affected by the ban, including Hassan, spoke of the impact it has had on them and their loved ones.
Hassan said that when he talks to his mother, she says she is feeling ill and lonely because she can’t communicate with others at the camp.
“When your mom is suffering … this is the time she needs you,” he said. “It really piles on the pain.”