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ISRA CHAKER at anti-Trump march
Isra Chaker at an anti-Trump marchPhoto credit: Mohannad Rachid 2019

Speaking to the young people impacted by Donald Trump’s racist travel ban

‘I never thought the place I call home would slam the doors in the face of my family’

No longer making any effort to conceal the institutionalised racism at the heart of his administration, last week Donald Trump announced plans to expand his travel ban to include six additional countries, among them NigeriaAfrica’s most populous nation. Citizens from Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar will now also be blocked from applying for certain types of US visas. All of these countries have substantial Muslim populations, further proof that Trump is simply doubling down on his Islamophobic policies with a de facto ‘Muslim ban’.

Among the wave of Democrats quick to denounce the ban was Senator Bernie Sanders, who wrote on Twitter: “My first executive orders will be to reverse every single thing President Trump has done to demonize and harm immigrants.” Former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris lambasted Trump’s claim that the policy is in the interest of national security, tweeting: “They are, without a doubt, rooted in anti-immigrant, white supremacist ideologies." 

Trump’s latest announcement comes three years after his original travel ban was unveiled in 2017, which restricted travel from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, Venezuela and North Korea. (Only Chad has since been removed from the list.) The ban, and Trump’s efforts to curb refugee admissions, are no doubt an attempt to galvanise his political base in the run-up to the 2020 US elections and in the aftermath of his impeachment trial.

Of the African continents targetted by the ban, the impact on Nigeria, which has by far the largest population of African immigrants living in the US, will be particularly severe. Sudanese and Tanzanian nationals will no longer be allowed to apply for “diversity visas”, which are available by lottery for applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the US. In Myanmar, where the Muslim minority is fleeing genocide, the travel sanctions threaten to further isolate the country and deny those looking for safety. 

The sanctions will only result in more pain and suffering for countless families who will be banned from reuniting, resettling or seeking work and education opportunities in America. In the wake of this week’s chaotic Iowa caucus, at a time when the future of the US has never felt so critical, we spoke to the young people affected by the devastating, callous travel ban.


“I’m Syrian, my mum is originally from Aleppo and my dad is from Hema. I've been living in the US for 13 and a half years after coming here for my undergrad. I haven’t gone back to Syria because of the situation there, and I’ve been working here, and my parents had been visiting. Last summer is when it (the travel ban) really kicked in: my mother had a visa, and she was actually in the US when the Supreme Court decided to allow the ban, so she still had a year left on that visa.

We encouraged my mum to apply for another one just in case. When she did, the person who was interviewing her was very aggressive, asking her all these very interrogating style questions, and then just said: “no you don't qualify for a visa, you’re rejected because of the travel ban” and dismissed her.  

She was really shaken by it. Now the consequence is that she can’t visit me, I was rejected from my visa application to Bahrain (where my mother lives), I just a have green card, my brother lives in Canada, but Canada has rejected her visa twice, so she can’t go see my brother, and my brother can’t go to the US either. My dad passed away a few years ago in Boston and now it’s just the three of us basically scattered around the world. We can only meet in a third country, where we can all access with visas. That's basically the new life. 

It’s emotionally taxing for me to not be able to have family members reunited in the country we experienced so much in – it’s the sense of isolation where I’m in the US alone I can’t reach my family easily.”


“I think that this decision to add Myanmar to the travel ban wasn’t a wise decision, especially with the case right now with Rohingya refugees. I was hoping there would be more the US could offer for refugees in Rohingya, so hearing this news definitely broke my heart for them. These are sanctions they don’t really deserve.

Myanmar is trying to become a more Democratic country, so with these travel bans, it’s like we’re pushing them away and isolating them as the country was trying to become a better country. I’ve noticed people in the US don’t even know where Myanmar is, or they only hear about the bad things. Because of this ban, people are going to assume everything they already think about what they hear about Myanmar. It’s really heartbreaking that this just happened.

For me, it was a great opportunity I was able to come to the US and study Political Science, and maybe become an international human rights lawyer in the future. It’s harder for me now I think. But it also makes me sad that there are other people, like for example a lot of friends, and a lot of family in Malaysia, who are trying to get to a better world like the US and because of the ban they won’t be able to do that. So I feel very sad for them, and also sad for my people, too.”


“I think this ban is so unfair. This is especially sad considering we as the Sudanese people have had an uprising and overthrew a 30-year dictator and his regime. We are building our country and restoring our diplomatic relations with other sovereign states and then this happens. It’s unnerving. Hammouk, the prime minister of Sudan, has spent so much time and effort to restore diplomatic relationships with the west/US after many decades of them being severed and that is not taken into account when this was announced. This ban is so racist. It makes me feel unwelcome and unwanted.

Most Sudanese people who apply for the diversity visa do so because they want a better standard of life that they could not live in Sudan. The majority of them are educated young people, some are families, with higher education degrees such as bachelor’s or masters and all have career experiences. My friends who apply all have expertise in different fields such as engineering and the medical field. They want to enter the US in a legal way and this ban is unreasonable. This ban hinders their hopes to progress and their contributions to the global society as a whole. These are people who want to make a difference and a change starting with their lives and then their careers. It’s so hard to think about their situations considering their hope is now shattered.”


“I’m from Kyrgyzstan, I was born there and I still have citizenship. I graduated from one of the top universities in America, Carnegie Mellon, Pennsylvania, with a masters degree. I’m highly qualified and now I actually cannot apply for a job in the US. I think it’s ridiculous that because Trump says ‘Oh well, let’s raise the economy of the US,’ potential employees like me just cannot apply for a job. I had some interviews in progress for companies in the US and now I have to cancel them completely – it’s such a disappointment. 

I was shocked when I found out – you have nothing to do with something bad, illegal, and you are just banned from an opportunity?

It is very surprising that our country was among those banned – why not Turkey, or Kuwait? I think it is because these country’s economies are pretty large, they are countries with oil – with Kyrgyzstan, most people in the US don’t even know what it is.”


“As someone who has been personally impacted by President Trump’s Muslim Ban, my heart breaks for the thousands of new families who will be facing the same separation and pain my family has felt.

The impact of this policy is something I experience every single day; I can’t ignore it or avoid it. It’s been three years of continued separation from my extended family in Syria, due to the conflict that tore our family apart. I used to believe the only hope I had to be reunited with my family members was my home, the United States, a country that claims to stand for the values of welcoming people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions. 

I never thought the place I call home would slam the doors in the face of my family, and thousands of other families who have already been through unimaginable conflict and trauma. I long for the days I will see them again with my own two eyes – not just on Facetime – when I can hug my aunts and uncles, spend time with my cousins, and try to make up for the many years we have been forced apart. 

Now, President Trump has expanded the list of countries on the Muslim Ban list, adding more bricks to the wall of isolation that this administration is building and further separating the US from the rest of the world.” 


“The main way the travel ban has affected me is more frequent searches and interviews at the airport. Extra hours in transit and a fear of being intimidated by border agents were part of the reason it took me a while to travel again. I would rather be welcomed back home like I was before (the ban) and not presumed an enemy until proven otherwise.

When my little cousin graduated from high school, many family members who desired to attend were unable to because of the ban. Should I get married someday, me and my partner would have to consider a destination wedding because I would want all of my loved ones to have the option of attending.

I remember waking up one morning and seeing the chaos of the immediate implementation of the travel ban. I pondered how things would be different if diversity was recognised as a great strength America has. It was honestly heartbreaking. There is so much beauty in the diversity that exists if everyone could just accept that and live in peace... but these days relations are more tattered than ever. A few hateful voices have managed to divide and sever relations domestically and abroad. Banning people based on their race or religion is beyond devastating but, let's face it, it’s nothing new. The per-country quota has never been fair to Africa. The ban, however, takes it to a new levels that cannot be denied as racist and xenophobic anymore. It is important that we not give up and accept unfair treatment. ‘Bad people’ exist in every nation and individuals using religion for political reasons have been around as long as organized religion has.”