Mamdouh AlRamadan, a 28-year-old data architect living in New York City, learned of President Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” while reading the news on Saturday morning. He was immediately confused and concerned about his future. He’s a refugee from Aleppo, Syria, and the U.S. was now under an executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country for 90 days, as well as suspending the United States' refugee system for 120 days and Syrian refugees indefinitely.
“I was shocked,” AlRamadan said of the ban. “It didn’t make any sense.”
It really doesn’t. Many have pointed out that the list of countries included in the ban appears arbitrary; the nations whose citizens were responsible for 9/11 aren’t even on the list. Protests broke out in airports across the country this weekend as as visa- and green card-holding travelers were detained or deported. But the ripple effects of this ban will stretch far further than the airports or even the 20,000 refugees frozen out immediately, into the lives of countless Muslim dual citizens, non-citizen legal residents and visa-holders, and their families.
“Syria was dangerous and I had to leave,” AlRamadan said. “I was attacked and almost killed by government thugs.” He and his wife fled Syria in 2012 and applied for student visas in California, where they continued their studies. Soon after, they were granted asylum status and issued green cards.
To AlRamadan, the United States was his “dreamland.” He recounted a time and his wife were crossing a street near a construction site in California and the construction workers stopped traffic for him and his wife. “I had never felt that respected,” he said. In Syria, “they didn’t care about our lives.”
But less than two weeks into the Trump presidency, that respect is quickly diminishing. AlRamadan fears that the president’s actions “opens doors” for more deliberate attacks against Muslims on behalf of the administration, and hopes “people can separate terrorism from religion and where people were born.”
Despite the Trump administration’s claims to the contrary, the ban appears to target Muslims, as it singles out only Muslim-majority nations and prioritizes religious minorities (i.e. non-Muslims) fleeing religious persecution. The executive order is frighteningly vague and followed none of the typical protocol—which renders it unlawful on constitutional and procedural grounds according to many experts and lawyers.
Whether the carelessly drafted ban is the result of gross negligence of or “willful disregard” for the law, as UCLA law professor Hiroshi Motomura called it over the phone, is unclear. Indeed, POLITICO reported on Friday that “Trump’s team made little effort to consult with federal agency lawyers or lawmakers” when executing his executive orders.
Amid the chaos, the terms are changing by the minute: A federal judge blocked the travelers’ deportation of travelers this weekend. Then Reince Priebus insisted Sunday night that green-card holders would be allowed entry. There has also been talk about exceptions for dual nationals from approved countries.
But Priebus’ statements provided little comfort for refugees like AlRamadan, since they will still be subject to intense screening upon entering the country and may be denied entry, anyway. This screening process appears to be up to the discretion of Customs and Border Patrol, and individuals will be dealt with on what Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway described as a “case-by-case basis.” And since AlRamadan is a Syrian refugee, that likely leaves him vulnerable to extra scrutiny.
To make matters worse, AlRamadan cannot re-enter Syria under the terms of his asylum. To see his mother, who still lives there, he would have to meet her in a country with loose travel regulations for Syrian refugees, such as Malaysia. So if he were to attempt to travel under the ban, he could very well find himself stranded in a country he has never called home.
Immigration attorney Fernando Zambrana pointed out that Trump’s ban effectively violates the very justifications for which individuals were granted green cards and visas in the first place. “Why are you giving them visas then, in the first place?” Zambrana said in a phone interview.
The ban is even stoking fear and uncertainty into natural-born Muslim U.S. citizens. Persia Abdanan, 29, was born in Dallas and resides in McKinney, Tex.. An Iranian-American, Abdanan holds dual citizenship to both Iran and the U.S., as does her father, Hamid. In December 2016, Abdanan’s grandfather in Iran fell gravely ill, and Hamid went to visit him, and only recently returned. “I’m glad he missed this whole thing by a month,” she said.
Officially, the Trump administration has insisted U.S. citizens will not be affected. But that doesn’t mean Persia or Hamid Abdanan will be able to travel to Iran with any semblance of normalcy. Even dual citizens to any of the seven countries listed in the travel ban may be subjected to further scrutiny upon re-entering the U.S., warns human rights attorney Ramy Aqel, who was on the ground at JFK airport this weekend providing free legal counsel and translation services to detainees. One thing is clear: Hassle-free global travel is no longer something dual nationals can take for granted.
“[My father] and I were actually planning a trip to Holland in the spring,” Abdanan said. “But now we are thinking we should travel nationally instead. Everything is just so fuzzy right now.”
Abdanan added that the ban has affected her extended family. Her aunt, uncle, and cousin in Missouri are “very afraid, and very nervous” despite having green cards. Another one of Abdanan’s cousins in Iran had been studying for her visa exam to come to U.S. to continue her studies. “[The ban] is so discouraging for her,” Abdanan said. “Women do not have the same opportunities there that they do here.”
Iranian-Americans with family abroad are in a particularly distressing situation, now that Iran has issued its own statement that it will ban all U.S. citizens from entering the country in retaliation to Trump’s ban. Iranian-Americans with family in Iran won’t be able to see their loved ones.
As for AlRamadan, he is optimistic that the U.S. and its core democratic values will not be undone in the next four years. But he believes the executive orders mark “the beginning of a new dictator.” He lived under a dictatorship, he said, and he knows how they work. “One of the recurring themes is that dictators avoid the statement of fact and focus on the statement of intent.”