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Permanent US Residents Included in Trump’s Muslim Nation Visa Ban

Syrian refugee Oum Ali wipes a tear while recounting her harrowing escape from besieged Aleppo. (Photo: Mohamed Azakir/World Bank/Flickr Creative Commons)

Permanent United States residents — holders of so-called green cards — are included in President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants, refugees and travelers from seven majority Muslim nations, the Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday.

“It will bar green card holders,” acting DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in an email reported by Reuters. ProPublica reports the move will block 500,000 legal US residents from returning from trips abroad.

On Friday, Trump, who described the move as “extreme vetting,” signed an executive order titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. The order implemented an immediate 90-day suspension of visas for citizens of select nations, currently Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. More than 100 million people are now banned from entering the United States.

The move follows executive orders to begin construction on a wall along the US-Mexican border, hire more border patrol agents and target sanctuary cities that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, all Trump campaign promises.

The latest executive order notes the “crucial role” visa screening plays in preventing terrorists from entering the United States, citing “the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans” on September 11, 2001 as a warning. But 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Two were citizens of the United Arab Emirates. The remaining two were Egyptian and Lebanese. None of those countries is included in Trump’s ban. There have been no fatal terrorist attacks in the United States by immigrants from the seven banned nations. The United States is currently bombing or has recently bombed six of the seven nations on the banned list and has bombed all of them within the past 20 years.

The ban sent immediate shockwaves around the world. BBC News reports several Iraqis and a Yemeni national were prevented from boarding a flight at Cairo airport bound for New York, despite holding valid visas for the US. At John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, two Iraqis who had been granted visas to enter the US were detained and prevented from exiting the airport, CNN reports. Customs and Border Protection officials cited Trump’s order. One of the Iraqis was later released under a provision allowing officials to admit people on a case-by-case basis for certain reasons. The other Iraqi held a visa to join his wife, who worked for an American contractor in Iraq, and son, both of whom have resettled as refugees in the US. Both Iraqis fear their lives, and their families’ lives, are in danger because of their previous collaboration with the 2003-2011 US occupation.

The new regime has also affected travelers who are permanent residents of nations whose citizens can travel freely to and from the United States, but who hold passports from banned nations. The Guardian reports British resident Hamaseh Tayari, who holds an Iranian passport, was returning to Glasgow, Scotland from a holiday in Costa Rica when she denied entry to her flight because it transited through New York. Her transit visa was revoked due to her nationality.

“This has really shocked me,” Tayari told the Guardian. “We just discovered [what Trump did] at the airport when we went to check-in. I want people to know that this is not just happening to refugees. I am a graduate and I have a Phd. It has happened to a person who is working and who pays tax.”

“I am destroyed,” Tayari added. “I did not know that I could cry for so long. It feels like the beginning of the end. How this is possible? I am really afraid about what is going on.”

The fear was palpable in immigrant communities across the United States. “The first thing that comes to mind are the families who are trying to reunify,” Hamid Imam, a Syrian activist in Paterson, New Jersey, told the Bergen Record. “You know who just came to my mind? A close friend who is trying to petition for his children. He was accepted as a refugee, and he’s trying to petition for his children. Now he can no longer be unified with his children.”

Corporate America is also reeling from the new order, especially the technology sector. Internet giant Google on Saturday urged employees who are citizens of the seven affected nations to return to the United States as quickly as possible, although it is uncertain whether they will be allowed back in. Google says more than 100 of its staff will be affected by the order.

Human rights advocates blasted the ban. Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who survived a Taliban assassination attempt when she was 15 years old, said she was “heartbroken” that America was “turning its back on a proud history of welcoming refugees and immigrants – the people who helped build your country, ready to work hard in exchange for a fair chance at a new life.”

“I am heartbroken that Syrian refugee children, who have suffered through six years of war by no fault of their own, are singled out for discrimination,” she added.

“In truth, refugees are fleeing terror, they are not terrorists,” David Miliband, president and CEO of the refugee aid group International Rescue Committee, said in a statement. “And at a time when there are more refugees than ever, America must remain true to its core values. America must remain a beacon of hope.”

Democratic lawmakers also slammed Trump’s executive action. “Tears are running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty tonight as a grand tradition of America, welcoming immigrants, that has existed since America was founded, has been stomped upon,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in response to the ban. “Taking in immigrants and refugees is not only humanitarian but has also boosted our economy and created jobs decade after decade. This is one of the most backward and nasty executive orders that the president has issued.”

Republicans, however, were more supportive of the president, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) arguing that “our number one responsibility is to protect the homeland.”

“We are a compassionate nation, and I support the refugee resettlement program, but it’s time to reevaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process,” Ryan said, according to CNN. “President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”

Many prominent Jewish and Christian groups said they opposed the move, although some smaller Christian fundamentalist sects expressed their support for the ban. “It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come,” Rev. Franklin Graham, an evangelical pastor and president of the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, told Huffington Post in response to Trump’s order.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry angrily condemned the order. “The US decision to restrict travel for Muslims to the US, even if for a temporary period of three months, is an obvious insult to the Islamic world and in particular to the great nation of Iran,” it said in a statement Saturday. “Despite the claims of combating terrorism and keeping American people safe, it will be recorded in history as a big gift to extremists and their supporters.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other legal groups filed a lawsuit Saturday against the Trump administration on behalf of the two Iraqis detained at JFK Airport. “President Trump’s war on equality is already taking a terrible human toll,” ACLU president Omar Jadwat said in a statement. “This ban cannot be allowed to continue.”

Trump was accused of Islamophobic bigotry throughout his presidential campaign, when he promised to ban all Muslim immigration and travel to the United States and even attacked the parents of a Muslim US Army captain who was killed in Iraq while trying to save other troops. Many of Trump’s cabinet picks have also been criticized for anti-Muslim statements, including national security adviser-in-waiting Mike Flynn, who called Islam a “vicious cancer,” likely attorney general Jeff Sessions, who called Islam a “toxic ideology,” Christian fundamentalist CIA Director Mike Pompeo and others.

Allegations of anti-Muslim bigotry in the Trump administration have been supported by Trump’s announcement on Friday that Christians will be given priority over other refugees seeking to enter the United States, even though the overwhelming majority of victims of Islamist terrorism have been other Muslims. However, Trump lied about this, tellingChristian Broadcasting Network on Friday that Islamist terrorists “were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians.”

Some critics of Trump’s ban said the move could be used as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups. In Minneapolis, home to a large Somali immigrant community, refugee Suud Olat was glad his parents and one of his brothers were able to join him in the US late last month. However, Olat told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that many of his family and friends remain in a refugee camp in Kenya and he fears people rejected by the United States could turn to terrorism. “They were hoping to come to this country,” Olat said of his friends and relatives. “Now Al-Shabab will tell them, ‘Hey, America doesn’t want you. Come join us.’ ”

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