Immigration and Society

One Simple Story After Trump’s Muslim Exclusion Order

January 31, 2017

Condemnation of the deportation and visa policy announced by the Trump administration has been overwhelming: it has come not only from liberal media but from Republican members of Congress, the executive agencies that were not consulted, Christian groups, Jewish groups, and US military veterans whose brave Middle Eastern translators may not have their visas honored. So many have weighed in that I need not recite my own reasons for opposing the action. But I want to share the story I heard late Saturday night from a DC cab driver, call him Ahmad, who drove me home. I will do my best to paraphrase; his words were pretty memorable:

I am from Sudan (one of the countries under the travel ban). I am affected by this. Two weeks ago, my cousin went back to Sudan to visit family; now his son is scheduled to have surgery for something related to sickle cell anemia. My cousin, he has a green card, he cannot get back in. He cannot be with his son. I love this country. When I go back to Sudan, people say to me, how can you live there, they hate Muslims in the US. I tell them no, the US is a great country, the people are great people. What shall I say to them now?

I listened sadly. It was my turn not to know what to say. I asked if his cousin had an immigration lawyer, said that this was just a spasm of the nation, that most people welcomed Ahmad and his relatives, that this would pass. By then, we had arrived at our destination. With an uncharacteristic wish of “God bless” to the driver, I exited into the dark, and the January chill. Beyond lay my front door and home.

When I decided to share Ahmad’s story, I thought that was all I would be able to say. But now I have reason to tell him not to give up on his adopted country just yet. Four federal judges have granted stays of the president’s order; new Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, has declared that green card holders must be permitted to return to the US. Perhaps Ahmad’s cousin was able to board a flight in time at least to see his son in the recovery room. So, here is a reason to be hopeful. This nation still has the rule of law. What the judges say, the president still must carry out. What lies ahead may be difficult, but those wise rules enacted by our founders will aid us.

Meryl Justin Chertoff focuses on America’s religious pluralism and other topics as Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Justice and Society Program.