As thousands marched in Minneapolis last weekend to protest immigration and deportation issues, I thought of the Supreme Court upholding the travel ban that affects individuals and families from seven countries — including me and my family.
I grew up in Aden, Yemen, in a big family. Eleven of us in the same house. My mother came to the United States when I was 5 but could not take us with her. I grew up with my grandma and my father’s family, whom I love so much. We had a beautiful, simple life in Yemen. We did not have much money, but we shared the good things together. In the evenings, neighbors came to our house because we had the only neighborhood TV. They brought food to share, and I played games with my friends. I loved my life there. I wish I could visit my friends and family in Yemen. But the travel ban will not allow it.
In 2010, my grandma died. Soon after, there was a revolution in Yemen. I had to flee from my country to a safe place, so I moved to Egypt. However, soon there was a revolution in Egypt, too. So again, I left my home. This time I moved to the United States in 2014 through a legal immigration visa and was reunited with my mother after 15 years. When I came to Minnesota, I was immersed in such a different life than I had always known. The winter was so cold, and we did not have our large family or nightly gatherings with neighbors. Then I went to school and saw how many opportunities kids have in America — opportunities that were a chance to better my family’s future.
Right now in Yemen, it seems there is no future even if you finish college; especially now that there is war. In America, I had a chance to work and make some money, and pay taxes like any other American.
I am a junior honor student at St. Catherine University. I plan to finish my education and become a human rights lawyer to help other people who cannot finish their educations because of war or conflict or cultural barriers. I want to help my people back home have a chance at a better future.
My sister and I had both applied for a visa to come to the United States, but her application was denied. So I came alone, as my mother had done years before. Now, under the travel ban, my sister will never be allowed to come here. Since we parted four years ago, she married and now has a baby on the way. I do not know if I will ever be reunited with my sister again, or if my mother will ever meet her grandchild. Simply because we are from Yemen, my sister cannot enter the United States, and I cannot leave to visit her because I may be banned from returning to my home in the United States.
I know that the ban is now considered legal by the Supreme Court, but how can it be ethical to keep my family apart, along with the thousands of others impacted by the ban? We simply want a safe place to be educated and to be part of a community where we feel safe and loved.
Today, because of the travel ban and the language used to defend it, my Muslim community, even here in Minnesota, is looked at as if we are dangerous people whom America banned for its own safety. When the government not only does not welcome us but spreads false claims that we are dangerous, it affects the way others see us and how we interact with our new community.
I dream of a world where there is no war or violence, a world where there are peace and love. I dream of a world where newcomers are not seen as aliens or illegals, a place where we all see and celebrate our shared humanity, and families are able to live together.
These dreams can only be realized if those who share them speak up. Families belong together.
Zaynab Abdi is a student at St. Catherine University.