Trump's immigration curbs no surprise, those affected say

AP News
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Posted: Jan 27, 2017 10:47 PM
Trump's immigration curbs no surprise, those affected say

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Many citizens of Muslim-majority countries affected by President Donald Trump's curbs on travel to the United States say they were hardly surprised the restrictions rank among his first orders of business.

The new commander-in-chief had, after all, once called for a "complete and total shutdown" of Muslim arrivals, and in his inaugural speech vowed to eradicate "radical Islamic terrorism" from the face of the earth.

But that doesn't make news of the clampdown sting any less for those on the receiving end.

"No one is surprised but everyone is disappointed, especially with the height of hope with (Barack) Obama," said Khalid al-Baih, a 36-year-old political cartoonist from Sudan. He fears new American visa restrictions will now have a knock-on effect. "Whatever America does, the rest of the world follows."

Shadi Sabbagh, a 40-year-old resident of Syria's capital, Damascus, who has a sister in the U.S., feels let down too by what he called "unnatural" proposals to restrict the flow of refugees into the U.S.

"America is a nation of immigrants and no one can ever ban immigration," he said. "What is our fault if some Muslims committed some wrong actions? Should we, as Christians, bear the consequences?"

The executive order issued Friday by Trump imposes a 120-day suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and a 90-day ban on all entry to the U.S. from countries with terrorism concerns. The three-month ban applies to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The order also halts entry by Syrian refugees until the president determines that changes to the refugee program ensure that admitting them won't compromise national security.

Abbas al-Bayati, an Iraqi Shiite member of parliament, said the curbs will send the wrong message to Iraqis at a time when Washington is counting on Iraqi forces to battle Islamic State militants in tough close-quarters combat in the northern city of Mosul.

"The United States and Iraq always stressed that they are allies," al-Bayati said, noting American commitments to support democracy in Iraq. He urged the Trump administration to reconsider its decision "for the good of the two countries."

Fellow Iraqi lawmaker Majid Chenkali, a Kurdish Sunni, was less diplomatic, saying Iraq should respond with similar visa policies for Americans.

"It should be an eye for an eye," he said.

Mohammed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Egypt's former vice president who now lives in self-imposed exile, posted on Twitter: "Will there be an Arab action to make us feel that we have some dignity?"

It was not immediately clear how Trump's plans would affect Syrians scattered all over the globe.

Close to 5 million Syrians have fled the country's brutal war since 2011, when an uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule erupted in the country's south. Most struggle to survive in tough conditions in neighboring countries, and many have relatives who have settled in the U.S.

Trump said during his campaign that he would suspend arrivals from Syria, portraying them as a potential security threat.

George, a 58-year-old businessman in Damascus, whose wife and two daughters fled the war and have been living in the U.S. for five years, said Americans already treat Syrians very badly, and that security measures greeting Syrians at U.S. airports are terrible.

The man, who declined to give his last name for security concerns, said that although he has U.S. residency, he still suffers every time he travels to America. "If the treatment of Syrians gets worse, we will pack our bags and return home."

Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti, star of the Oscar-nominated "The Salesman," said she would boycott the Academy Awards to protest Trump's immigration policies.

"Trump's visa ban for Iranians is racist," she posted on Twitter.

Tehran-based diplomatic analyst Hassan Hanizadeh said Trump's move will do nothing to improve strained relations between Washington and Tehran, and will only make things more difficult for ordinary Iranians who travel to the U.S. to visit family. There are believed to be more than one million Iranians and Iranian-Americans living in the U.S.

"As expected, Trump has launched aggressive policies against Islamic countries, including Iran," Hanizadeh said.

On the streets of Tehran, Iranians echoed that sentiment.

"Trump has targeted ordinary Iranians since he cannot do anything against the Iranian government," said car mechanic Borzou Ahmadi, 35.

Simin Ghaderi, a 43-year-old teacher, said the plan shows a lack of knowledge among American decision-makers.

"Just look at passports of those who were involved in terrorist activities in the U.S. and the west. How many of them were Iranian citizens?" he said.

The 9/11 attacks, for example, were mostly carried out by citizens of Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally and Iran's regional rival. American citizens were responsible for other recent deadly attacks.

Several prominent mass-casualty terrorist attacks on American soil, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have been carried out by Sunni militant groups and have not involved Iranian citizens.

The United States has listed Iran a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 — four years after Washington severed diplomatic relations in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and storming of the U.S. Embassy. The Islamic Republic backs a number of Middle Eastern militant groups, including Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.

But Iran also finds common ground with the U.S. in its opposition to the Islamic State militant group, which views the Shiite sect of Islam that most Iranians follow as heretical.

Mohammad Saghafi, an undergraduate electric engineering student in Tehran Azad University, said he is thinking twice about trying to pursue further education in the U.S. because of the ban.

"I may continue my education in Canada or Germany," he said. "Their leaders do not react like teenagers, at least."

For some in the Middle East, the proposed ban won't change much — either because they had no plans to visit the U.S. or couldn't get in when they tried.

"I'd rather go somewhere else like Thailand as a tourist than the U.S.," said Ahmadi, the Iranian mechanic.

Mounir al-Khayat, 31-year-old banker from Syria who was born and raised in Kuwait, said it has always been tough for Syrians to get American visas, even before Trump's election. He has been refused a tourist visa, as have others he knows.

"I was told that because I am Syrian, the authorities there are not sure if I will return," he said.

"It has always been there, this travel ban," he continued. "Trump just made it official."

Advocacy groups for refugees condemned the order in emotional terms, saying the policy exacerbated the suffering of vulnerable people while abandoning American values.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, who is Christian, said he was especially upset about the exemption for persecuted religious minorities in the order. The preferential treatment, clearly meant for Christians, would generate resentment of communities already at serious risk, he said.

"It's wrongheaded and dangerous in terms of the Middle East," Zogby said.

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Associated Press writers Fay Abuelgasim in Dubai, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Nasser Karimi and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, Hussain al-Qatari in Kuwait City, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Ahmed Sami in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck