“To protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.” This is the stated purpose of the executive order that President Donald Trump signed on January 27. It was entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” After hearing about this executive order, Notre Dame’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) felt immediate concern.
According to the New York Times, the order restricts entry from seven majority Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. The order also suspends all refugee admission for 120 days and prohibits all Syrian refugees from entering the United States. It has been clarified that temporary visa holders (such as nonimmigrant visitors, business travelers, temporary workers and students), new immigrants and Muslim refugees are the ones who are greatly affected by this executive order.
Currently, the Trump administration is considering rewriting the executive order after U.S. District Senior Judge James Robart temporarily blocked the ban through a nationwide restraining order. However, the situation remains ambiguous and distressing, especially for Muslim communities.
Sarah Arafat, a senior biology student and president of Notre Dame’s MSA, is beyond shocked at the Trump administration for instituting the executive order. Her initial thought was that the ban is very discriminatory and will have serious consequences. “We all know that the United States is a country founded by immigrants. The Trump administration is disregarding that completely,” she explains. “Not to mention the fact that our constitution clearly states that it’s illegal to discriminate based on religion. I believe that this ban is illegal and should never have been instated in the first place.”
Sania Sayeed expressed similar sentiments. She’s MSA’s vice president and is also a senior majoring in biology. Sayeed believes that the ban is contrary to the values and ethics the country has been built upon. “This ban shows that as a nation, we are moving backwards instead of moving in a positive direction of becoming more united and tolerating of all religions,” she says.
President Trump has made it clear in the past that he would favor the entry of people belonging to minority religious groups from the seven countries listed in the order. The order also explicitly states that it “prioritizes refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” However, President Trump has denied that the order is a ban on Muslims. Supporters of the order also argue that the ban is about keeping the nation safe from future terrorist attacks.
Arafat disagrees with this defense. “I was astounded to see that this immigration ban didn’t even include the countries where people who have committed terrorism on U.S. soil in the last 20 years come from. If they are going to use anti-terrorism as an excuse, why isn’t Saudi Arabia on the list? What about Lebanon? What about the UAE?” she says.
Both Arafat and Sayeed are worried about how the order affects refugees. Arafat briefly explains the relationship between United States and Syria, commenting that the United States failed in pursuing foreign policy to bring peace in Syria. “We didn’t interfere when Bashar Al Assad crossed the infamous red line by using chemical weapons. We told the people of Syria that we would help them and we gave them hope to stand up and fight, thinking we would have their back. We didn’t. That cost the world so many Syrian lives,” she says. “Instead of apologizing and doing something to help, we’re shutting them out of our country while they’re trying to escape the once beautiful and historic, but now demolished, Syria.”
According to Al Jazeera, the United States has opposed Assad’s government but refused to be involved even when the Assad government allegedly used chemical weapons back in 2013. This is the red line that Arafat refers to. The red line that President Barack Obama said would prompt intervention.
Meanwhile, Sayeed says that those leaving their countries are seeking refuge in America for a reason. “This country has provided them with a source of hope of leading a better life and building a safer future. If we are to take away the only hope they have, then shame on us.”
For Arafat, the situation is more worrying because the order affects her and her family. Her father is a Syrian who immigrated to the United States more than 25 years ago. Currently, she has grandparents living in Damascus, the capital of Syria. They visit Arafat and her family in the United States every year to leave the chaos and destruction in Syria. “It’s very disappointing that as of now, they will not be able to visit this year, especially since they would have been attending my graduation from Notre Dame and my younger sister’s graduation from Al-Rahmah Middle School. We’ll see what the future holds,” she says.
As a Muslim woman living in the United States, she is also concerned about how the order will affect the treatment of Muslim communities in this country. She asks, “Will Muslim women who choose to wear the headscarf be forced to remove it for ‘public safety’? Will we be able to practice Islam freely?”
Since the temporary lift, Sayeed has felt more hope that the United States contemplates Muslim people’s values. She feels that there are still people “fighting for civil justice and an equal opportunity for all.”
But what can Notre Dame community do about this situation? How can it support and help its fellow Muslim members, as well as their friends and families? Arafat has a solution—education and communication. “I hope that seminars and open spaces will continue to be held so we can talk and share to create more awareness among students and the entire community in Baltimore,” she says.