Fears re­place lost dreams of liv­ing in safety

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY KA­REEM FAHIM, MUSTAFA SALIM AND SUDARSAN RAGHA­VAN

is­tan­bul — Af­ter work­ing as an in­ter­preter for an Amer­i­can se­cu­rity com­pany in Iraq and en­dur­ing years of back­ground checks af­ter ap­ply­ing for a U.S. visa, Labeeb Ali’s hopes of mov­ing to the United States ended abruptly in Qatar’s in­ter­na­tional air­port on Saturday, when of­fi­cials pre­vented him from board­ing a flight to Texas.

“I have the visa in my pass­port,” he said hours later, af­ter he had stopped yelling at the air­port staff and his rage had given way to de­spair and re­gret at hav­ing al­ready sold his busi­ness and be­long­ings in Iraq.

“They have killed my dream,” he said. “They took it all away from me, in the last min­utes.”

Pres­i­dent Trump’s order on Fri­day to tem­po­rar­ily ban cit­i­zens of sev­eral Mus­lim coun­tries from en­ter­ing the United States sowed panic, con­fu­sion and an­guish in air­ports across the globe Saturday, as na­tion­als of the af­fected coun­tries were ei­ther barred by air­lines

from trav­el­ing or de­tained upon ar­rival in the United States.

Those pre­vented from board­ing U.S.-bound planes in­cluded Iraqis such as Ali, who said he had been granted a spe­cial im­mi­gra­tion visa on Jan. 24 re­served for in­ter­preters and trans­la­tors who had worked for Amer­i­can forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. Oth­ers had fled war in Ye­men or Syria or re­pres­sion in Su­dan or Iran. Taken to­gether, Saturday’s re­stric­tions amounted to an­other cruel trial for peo­ple who had es­caped con­flict and over­came the hur­dles to win cov­eted Amer­i­can visas, only to be turned back on what should have been their jour­neys’ fi­nal leg.

Count­less oth­ers were left in a par­a­lyz­ing limbo as they strug­gled to un­der­stand the pres­i­dent’s edict. They in­cluded Syr­ian stu­dents granted ad­mis­sion in Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties and fac­ing the cer­tainty that they would not be able to at­tend, and Iraqi or Ira­nian green-card hold­ers trav­el­ing abroad and ter­ri­fied at the pos­si­bil­ity that they would not be able to return home.

Sarah Amer, an Iraqi who lives in New York, had left her daugh­ter at home and was vis­it­ing friends in Iraq when Trump signed the ex­ec­u­tive order. “They can’t just change the rules in one night,” she said Saturday, amid con­fu­sion about whether green-card hold­ers from Iraq could return to the United States.

“These are peo­ple’s lives they are play­ing with,” she said.

The ex­ec­u­tive order, ti­tled “Pro­tect­ing the Na­tion from For­eign Ter­ror­ist En­try into the United States,” bars cit­i­zens from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Ye­men, Su­dan, So­ma­lia and Libya, all pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim na­tions, from en­ter­ing the United States for the next 90 days. The order also in­def­i­nitely bars Syr­ian refugees from re­set­tling in the United States and sus­pends the en­try of all refugees from any coun­try for 120 days.

The order fol­lowed Trump’s re­peated cam­paign pledges to re­strict Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion to the United States. But the speed with which it was pro­mul­gated — a week af­ter the pres­i­dent took of­fice — still caught those most af­fected by sur­prise.

The con­fu­sion ex­tended to air­lines, which is­sued con­tra­dic­tory or vague rules about who would be al­lowed to fly. Lufthansa, the Ger­man car­rier, re­leased a state­ment say­ing it was “obliged by law to strictly ad­here to U.S. im­mi­gra­tion re­quire­ments.” But, re­flect­ing the un­cer­tainty over the Amer­i­can di­rec­tive, the air­line said only that cit­i­zens of the af­fected coun­tries “might not be ac­cepted on­board U.S. flights.”

Qatar Air­ways said that pas­sen­gers would be al­lowed to travel only if they were per­ma­nent green-card hold­ers or had visas that were ex­empt from the order.

Manel Vri­jen­hoek, a spokes­woman for KLM, the Dutch car­rier, said, “It’s not 100 per­cent clear who is al­lowed in and who is not.” The air­line had barred seven pas­sen­gers from trav­el­ing to the United States on Saturday, she said, af­ter in­form­ing them “that there is no use in flying to the U.S. be­cause you will be re­jected. You won’t even be able to leave the plane.”

She would not say which coun­try the pas­sen­gers had come from, only that they were from one of the seven coun­tries named in the pres­i­den­tial order.

Ali, the Iraqi ci­ti­zen, said that two Syr­i­ans were also pre­vented from trav­el­ing on his flight to Texas. In Egypt, se­cu­rity of­fi­cials stopped five Iraqis and a Ye­meni na­tional from board­ing a flight to New York. There were un­con­firmed re­ports that Ira­nian vis­i­tors as well as per­ma­nent green­card hold­ers were re­stricted from trav­el­ing to the United States by of­fi­cials at air­ports in Am­s­ter­dam, Abu Dhabi as well as Qatar, ac­cord­ing to Hazhir Rah­man­dad, an Ira­nian Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy who cre­ated a crowd­sourced data­base to track Ira­nian trav­el­ers af­fected by the ban.

Although the de­tails in the data­base could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied, the re­ports also sug­gested scores of Ira­nian vis­i­tors and green-card hold­ers were also be­ing turned away at sev­eral U.S. air­ports upon ar­rival.

The data and re­ports so far “sug­gest there is con­fu­sion among border agents about how to treat” the var­i­ous cat­e­gories of visa hold­ers, Rah­man­dad said.

When Fuad Sharef and his fam­ily landed at Cairo air­port Saturday morn­ing, they were clutch­ing board­ing passes for their con­nect­ing flight to New York and valid one-year visas to the United States. They were headed, even­tu­ally, to Nashville, to start a new life.

But soon af­ter they en­tered the ter­mi­nal, Egyp­tian air­port au­thor­i­ties stopped them and or­dered them to hand over their

“They can’t just change the rules in one night. These are peo­ple’s lives they are play­ing with.” Sarah Amer, an Iraqi who lives in New York and was vis­it­ing friends in Iraq when Pres­i­dent Trump signed the ex­ec­u­tive order.

pass­ports. They in­formed him that the Amer­i­can Em­bassy in Bagh­dad had sent a com­mu­nique say­ing the fam­ily could no longer travel on to the United States.

“They didn’t ex­plain why,” said Sharef, 51, who spoke by phone be­cause he and his fam­ily were in­side the tran­sit sec­tion of the ter­mi­nal and not al­lowed to leave. “But I knew this was be­cause of the ex­ec­u­tive order signed by Don­ald Trump.”

He was trav­el­ing with his wife, Ara­zoo, 41; his son Bnyad, 19; his daugh­ter Yad, 17; and an­other daugh­ter, Shad, 10.

Like many Iraqis want­ing to re­set­tle in the United States, Sharef took ad­van­tage of a pro­gram to as­sist Iraqis who worked for the U.S. govern­ment and Amer­i­can me­dia in Iraq. Sharef had worked for Re­search Tri­an­gle In­sti­tute (RTI), a USAID sub­con­trac­tor, for sev­eral years af­ter the 2003 U.S.-led in­va­sion, first as trans­la­tor and later run­ning a pro­gram that gave out mi­crobusi­ness loans to Iraqis.

Work­ing for the Amer­i­cans was filled with per­ils, he said. He and other col­leagues faced death threats — he knew co-work­ers who were kid­napped or killed. His work and back­ground swayed the U.S. Em­bassy in Bagh­dad, and af­ter two years of vet­ting, they deemed him safe enough to be re­set­tled in the United States.

Sharef sold his house, his car and his re­main­ing pos­ses­sions. He pulled his three chil­dren out of their schools. He spent $5,000 for air tick­ets and quit his job as a sup­ply-chain man­ager for a large phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firm. He was con­fi­dent he would find an op­por­tu­nity in Nashville, with his three de­grees, in­clud­ing an MBA.

“Don­ald Trump de­stroyed my life,” said Sharef. “How can he do this to peo­ple who risked their lives to help Amer­ica?”

STEPHANIE KEITH/GETTY IM­AGES

At John F. Kennedy In­ter­na­tional Air­port, pro­test­ers rally against Pres­i­dent Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion order.

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