As shells exploded around their home in a besieged neighbourhood of Ta’iz, Yemen, brothers Yahia and Maher, then aged 16 and 18, took shelter beneath the staircase. Here they remained for three days with a dwindling supply of food and water. As dawn broke on the fourth day they made a run for it, dodging gunfire. “Bullets were hitting close to their feet as they ran,” their mother Fatima, a green card holder, says. “Luckily they were not injured.”
Fatima’s greatest hope is that her sons can join her in New York where she lives. In November, almost two years after the brothers, now aged 18 and 20, applied to come to the United States, they had an interview at the US embassy in Djibouti where they are currently stranded. The interview went well and they were hopeful that their long wait to be reunited with their family would soon come to an end.
But Donald Trump’s travel ban has changed all that.
"The revised travel ban shows a xenophobic policy towards Muslims which is mutating, virus-like, into an ever more resilient strain."
On Monday, more than three weeks after its predecessor was blocked by US courts, a revised executive order was issued by the White House. With the stroke of a pen, the President banned Yemenis like Yahia and Maher from entering the USA. He also effectively shut America’s door to anyone – including refugees – from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan. These six countries have two main things in common: they are predominantly Muslim, and many of their citizens are trying to seek asylum abroad to escape serious human rights violations like persecution, indiscriminate bombings, and torture.
By narrowing slightly the scope of the new executive order the Trump administration may have remedied some of its predecessor’s constitutional flaws but it remains blatantly discriminatory. Thinly disguised as a national security measure, the ban reinstates many of the most repellent elements of the original.
President Trump publicly suggested banning all Muslims from travelling to the US while on the campaign trail in 2015. In the face of a noisy backlash and perhaps on the advice of lawyers, he scaled back the scope of this first proposed ban and shifted his language from targeting Muslims to targeting specific countries. The reason for this shift was a calculated one. As he explained on NBC in July 2016: “People were so upset when I used the word Muslim,” he said. “Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I’m OK with that, because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim.”
"Thinly disguised as a national security measure, the ban reinstates many of the most repellent elements of the original."
His attempts to disguise the xenophobic intent behind the ban did not fool federal district and appeals court judges who found his national security justifications unconvincing.
Indeed the idea that refugees pose a greater risk of committing acts of terrorism than anyone else is false. A refugee is not someone who commits acts of terrorism, a refugee is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism.
Up until recently, the US clearly recognized this fact. Set-up in 1980, America’s Refugee Admissions Program has overseen the successful resettlement of more than 3 million refugees. It has been a beacon of hope to some of the most vulnerable people around the world.
By dimming that beacon, this executive order plays directly into the hands of those who portray the US government as being at war with Islam. Reports earlier this month suggest members of the armed group that calls itself Islamic State were referring to the previous executive order as the “blessed ban” because it will enable them to galvanize anti-US sentiment.
The Trump administration’s intent is to create a policy that will withstand legal scrutiny. Rather than curbing the excesses of the first travel ban, the revised version shows a xenophobic policy towards Muslims which is mutating, virus-like, into an ever more resilient strain. And like a virus, its effects cannot be easily contained.
"It is up to us all to challenge everything that this travel ban represents."
Life for Yahia and Maher, friendless and unemployed in an unfamiliar land, is hard. “My sons are feeling absolutely helpless and lost,” says Fatima, who herself no longer feels secure in the United States. “These decisions made by President Trump have left us in a state of constant fear. We feel like suspects even though we’ve never done anything wrong in our lives.”
It is up to us all to challenge everything that this ban represents. Around the world people are expressing their opposition to the travel ban and in the United States tomorrow, Amnesty International is holding a national day of action. Across the country, Americans of all faiths and backgrounds will come together to demand that Congress reject this ban and restore hope for refugees like Yahia and Maher who are seeking respite and sanctuary from war.