For Mounaf Alsamman, a Syrian-born Twin Cities physician, President Donald Trump’s executive order Monday brought mixed news: His brother’s family, in the final stage of the resettlement process, faces another four months of waiting. But unlike the January version, this order doesn’t single out Syrian refugees for an indefinite suspension.
“An indefinite ban was really scary,” Alsamman said. “Now we can breathe.”
For the refugee destination of Minnesota, the new version of the executive order suspending resettlement and travel for natives of six majority-Muslim countries brought a sense of déjà vu, with a few key twists. Refugee arrivals here had already dropped off dramatically as the Trump administration slashed the number to be received, and local agencies prepared for a slow spring and summer. For visa holders and local Iraqis, whose country came off the list of nations facing travel restrictions, the new order brought relief.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson’s office said Monday she was reviewing the order, which takes effect March 16, and would decide whether to mount a legal challenge like the one that blocked the Jan. 27 version.
Trump administration officials said Monday that the FBI is investigating about 300 people who came to the United States as refugees for terrorism ties, but they declined to provide any details, including how many are from the travel ban countries.
Arrive Ministries, one of five Twin Cities resettlement agencies, had only one family still on track to arrive in March — an offshoot of the president’s move to cut arrivals from 110,000 to 50,000 this fiscal year. Executive Director Bob Oehrig said the decrease in arrivals is more significant than the four-month suspension. In addition, the agency had about 140 refugees from more than a dozen countries cleared for travel. All have relatives in the state.
“Families that have been separated for years will now have to wait even longer,” he said.
Alsamman’s brother, a pharmacist, his wife and four children are among those cases put on hold. Flushed from their home in Damascus by the civil war, family members live in Kuwait.
“He’s still hopefully coming,” Alsamman said. “But you still have this voice in the back of your mind saying, ‘Maybe not.’ ”
Meanwhile, some Minnesota supporters of the president also voiced mixed feelings about the new order. Sartell resident Ed Schmidt pointed to the language about the federal counterterrorism investigations.
“I think that the immigration should stop temporarily until they can be vetted, and I think that’s almost impossible to do because there isn’t infrastructure in those countries,” he said, adding he believes travel from some countries will have to be shut down permanently.
Olivia resident Terry Serbus, a Trump supporter who also acts as chairman of a judicial monitoring effort for the Minnesota Republican Party, said he was disappointed to see the changes to the original travel ban, even as he was heartened by the pause in refugee resettlement. “I actually disagree with the fact of omitting Iraq from it,” he said.
Just as in the aftermath of the original travel order, Somali-American attorneys and community leaders fielded frantic calls after Trump signed the order Monday. Even green-card holders and U.S. citizens are afraid to travel, said Mohamud Noor of the nonprofit Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. Amiin Harun, an immigration attorney who works with many Somali clients, said several were on the cusp of reuniting with relatives whose resettlement or travel plans are now on hold.
Jamal Ali’s brother-in-law, a green-card holder, was detained for hours at Philadelphia’s airport as he returned from visiting family in Iraq on the day after the earlier order was signed. Ali, an interpreter who came as a refugee in 2009, said he was relieved Iraq was no longer in the order but he worries that the original order did damage in stigmatizing Iraqi immigrants.
“All of us are terrorists?” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
email@example.com 612-673-4781 firstname.lastname@example.org 612-673-7329