Pres­i­dent Trump’s travel re­stric­tions have lo­cals on edge

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By RUSS OLIVO ro­livo@woonsock­et­

NORTH SMITH­FIELD — Say­ing wor­ship­pers are grow­ing in­creas­ingly wor­ried about a rise in anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment, the leader of one of the state’s largest mosques is call­ing for a meet­ing of the gover­nor, state and lo­cal po­lice to dis­cuss se­cu­rity.

Imam Ikram Haq of Masjid Al Is­lam on Sayles Hill Road said wor­ship­pers were al­ready con­cerned af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­strict­ing travel for at least three months for na­tion­als of seven Mid­dle Eastern and African coun­tries where Is­lam is the dom­i­nant re­li­gion.

Then, on Sun­day night, shortly af­ter wor­ship­pers left the mosque for the daily prayer ser­vice, news broke that two men bran­dish­ing firearms at­tacked wor­ship­pers at a mosque in Que­bec City, Canada, killing six and leav­ing eight oth­ers crit­i­cally in­jured.

“Our com­mu­nity, the Mus­lim com­mu­nity through­out the United States, is out­raged and up­set,” said Imam Ikram. “This ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion does not make any sense. We un­der­stand he’s ful­fill­ing one of his cam­paign promises, but right now he is the leader of the United States and he should care for all Amer­i­cans.”

The imam – sort of the Mus­lim equiv­a­lent of a Chris­tian pas­tor – had spo­ken against the ex­ec­u­tive or­der dur­ing a rally out­side the State­house on Sun­day af­ter­noon. Hours later, the in­ci­dent in Que­bec City seemed to add an ex­cla­ma­tion point to the com­mu­nity’s con­cerns about an in­creas­ingly hos­tile at­mos­phere for Mus­lims.

“What’s ur­gent on our minds now is the peace and se­cu­rity of wor­ship­pers be­cause of what hap­pened in Québec City,” he said.

Founded in 1994, Masjid al Is­lam is one of a hand­ful of mosques in the state. Imam Ikram said there are per­haps 3,000 mem­bers of the Mus­lim faith in the state – about 500 of whom are reg­u­lar wor­ship­pers at Masjid al Is­lam, mak­ing it one of the largest com­mu­ni­ties of Mus­lims in the area.

The faith­ful of Masjid al Is­lam come from a smor­gas­bord of coun­tries where Is­lam is a dom­i­nant re­li­gion – some on the no-travel list and some not.

About 1,000 peo­ple turned out for the rally in Prov­i­dence on Sun­day – a small crowd com­pared to protests in other ma­jor cities – as news of Trump’s un­ex­pected ex­ec­u­tive or­der spread across the coun­try. Is­sued Fri­day af­ter­noon, the or­der bans travel to the U.S. by cit­i­zens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Su­dan, Libya, So­ma­lia and Ye­men for three months pend­ing fur­ther re­view.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the pres­i­dent also sus­pended the ad­mis­sion of all refugees into the U.S., no mat­ter where they come from, for up to 120 days and ter­mi­nates the ac­cep­tance of all refugees from Syria in­def­i­nitely. Mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said the crack­down is aimed at pre­vent­ing ter­ror­ists from com­ing into the United States.

Crit­ics across the coun­try, like New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, as­sailed the crack­down as “un-Amer­i­can” and “mean-spir­ited.” In Prov­i­dence, Gov. Gina Rai­mondo said it flies in the

face of the bedrock prin­ci­ples that led Roger Wil­liams to settle the state as a haven of re­li­gious free­dom and tol­er­ance.

Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus went on na­tional tele­vi­sion Sun­day to clar­ify some of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pre­vi­ous as­ser­tions about how broadly the ex­ec­u­tive or­der would ap­ply to for­eign na­tion­als who hold “green cards,” which means they’re al­ready le­gal res­i­dents of the United States. Priebus said it’s likely that some green card hold­ers who travel back and forth from the banned coun­tries to the United States could be sub­ject to in­creased scru­tiny from cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties.

“This is all done for the pro­tec­tion of Amer­i­cans,” Priebus said on NBC TV’s “Meet the Press.” “Pres­i­dent Trump is not will­ing to get this wrong, which is why he wants to move for­ward and pro­tect Amer­i­cans.”

But Paw­tucket im­mi­gra­tion lawyer David Borts said “there is no ra­tio­nal ba­sis” for the ex­ec­u­tive or­der and it was rolled out with sloppy in­ter­a­gency co­or­di­na­tion by the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Right now what you’ve got is to­tal chaos,” he said. “The real ques­tion is what hap­pens next.”

Even con­ser­va­tive think tanks have taken is­sue with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ra­tio­nale for choos­ing the seven coun­tries on the no-travel list. Borts said the nexus to ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents in the United States is much eas­ier to doc­u­ment for some Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries that aren’t on the list. For ex­am­ple, the ter­ror­ists who com­man­deered the jet­lin­ers that took down the Twin Tow­ers on 911 were all from Saudi Ara­bia – an in­ci­dent Trump ref­er­ences in the pre­am­ble to the ex­ec­u­tive or­der – but Saudi Ara­bia isn’t on the no­travel list.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, Borts said, tried to “walk back” some of the ini­tial as­ser­tions about how hold­ers of green cards might be af­fected. As he now un­der­stands the in­tent, Borts said the ad­min­is­tra­tion is say­ing green card hold­ers might not nec­es­sar­ily be barred from en­try but they could be sub­ject to “sec­ondary in­spec­tions” at U.S. air­ports.

“A sec­ondary in­spec­tion can be pretty nasty,” said Borts. It means trav­el­ers can be pulled aside and ques­tioned pri­vately by one or

more cus­toms or border pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers. There is no right to coun­sel dur­ing such in­ter­ro­ga­tions, which Borts said could typ­i­cally in­clude “some pretty tough ques­tions” about party af­fil­i­a­tion and re­li­gious be­liefs. “Then they’ll make a de­ci­sion on whether you’ll be al­lowed to re-en­ter,” he said.

With proper plan­ning, im­mi­gra­tion can be a pow­er­ful tool to strengthen the coun­try and grow the econ­omy, said Borts. Though the sys­tem ap­pears to have been thrust into dis­ar­ray at the mo­ment, he’s op­ti­mistic that the pres­i­dent’s or­der will cause Amer­i­cans to take a closer look at the is­sues and make pos­i­tive changes.

“This is all based on fear and ir­ra­tional­ity, but maybe we’ll learn some stuff,” he said.

In nearby Cen­tral Falls, the ex­ec­u­tive or­der ran­kled City Councilman Thomas Lazieh, a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Syr­ian Amer­i­can who is also pres­i­dent of St. Basil the Great Melkite Catholic Church, in Lin­coln. Many of the church mem­bers have fam­ily ties to Syria and other Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries.

Lazieh said Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der strikes at the very heart of what it means for him to be an Amer­i­can.

“I am the son of a Syr­ian refugee,” said Lazieh. “My fa­ther left Syria in 1921 to es­cape re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion by the Ot­toman Turks. If Don­ald Trump were pres­i­dent we would not have been able to come to the United States.”

Lazieh said he has fam­ily in the war-torn Syr­ian city of Aleppo who are caught up in the civil strife. Not all of them want to leave, Lazieh said, but there are some who do and for now Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der means that prospect is no longer on the ta­ble.

“Now it’s rel­a­tively im­pos­si­ble to even ap­ply or to be con­sid­ered at this time,” he said.

He said he in­tends to sub­mit a res­o­lu­tion ask­ing fel­low mem­bers of the City Coun­cil to take a stand against Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der on im­mi­gra­tion at the next meet­ing of the City Coun­cil.

“This is wrong,” said Lazieh. “This is not the Amer­i­can way.”

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