Immigration Ban Sparks Concern
By Kimberely Blackburn and Caitlin Janczys
Delta Digital News Service
JONESBORO – Although the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling put a freeze on President Trump’s executive order limiting the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, it still impacts thousands of people, including those currently in Arkansas.
Residing in the United States for four years, Aya* and her family will return to Libya in a few months. She said although it does not affect her now, she fears the executive order might alter her family’s future. Although Aya planned to return to the United States to work on her doctorate after visiting home, now she fears she will not be allowed.
The executive order not only affects Aya’s education, but also her children’s education. After learning of her 3-year-old son’s autism diagnosis, she feared for his future. In Libya, he would not be taught how to better express his emotions, which he now finds difficult. While in America, he learns to communicate by learning his alphabet, numbers and colors. If they cannot return, he will lose the benefits of a better educational program.
Jaden,* a graduate student from Yemen, came to the United States a year ago. He planned to return to Yemen in August for his wife and their 18-month-old child. But now he may have to stay here without them.
“There is now a need to stay here without them, without my soul,” he said.
Voices like these got a group of people thinking. Cord Rapert and others decided to help make those voices heard by creating the “NEA: We all belong” rally on Friday, Feb. 3 in front of the Craighead County Courthouse. Word spread quickly.
“It’s all been word-of-mouth and Facebook,” Rapert said.
By noon Saturday, more than 60 participants showed up to hold signs and stand close to the edge of the sidewalk that faced Main Street for passing cars to see. The message they spread: “No bans. No walls. No mass deportations. We all belong.”
“We decided to show not only the community here that there are people here who support (immigrants) and have their back no matter what,” Rapert said, “we wanted to do something that showed our support and showed how we are against this issue. We’re going to fight it any way we can.”
Honking horns from passing cars signaled support for the rally and its participants. The encouragement lifted the crowd’s spirits, making them hold their signs higher and chant louder.
Yet with such a high tension-filled issue, the rally wasn’t just met with optimism. A few cars passed with their windows open so that they could yell negative comments in the faces of the participants. One male even stood up through his window, turned his phone on the rally so he could video them, the other free hand raised in a fist, screaming, “Build that wall.”
Aya said the prophet Muhammad teaches followers to treat others the way they would like to be treated. She understands how some equate Islam with terrorism, but said Islamic militants do no represent Muslims accurately.
“I hate them!” she said.
Aya said the majority wishes to work with the United States to rid Libya of the terrorists. When the Obama administration worked to kill known terrorists in the area, many Libyans assisted in the United States’ efforts. She said terrorists attack her country as well as others.
Jaden said he agrees that the group, which calls itself the Islamic State, affects those practicing Islam the wrong way. He said those truly practicing the Islamic faith hate the terrorists more than others. Islam will always be a personal faith, he said, noting it means something different to every Muslim.
Yet not everyone understands the divide between terrorists and Muslims. Jaden said he fears the executive order will increase the level of hate between U.S. citizens and Muslims.
Many rally participants attended not only to raise concerns about the “ban,” but to promote hope, too. David Nunez, an organizer for Arkansas United Community Coalition, evoked the hopeful feeling at the rally.
“I thought it was a good idea … advocating for civil rights and social justice and civic integration,” he said. “Everybody has been so friendly and we’d like to keep it that way. It is a great rally. I’m very excited, I’m very, very proud to be here in solidarity.”
The outpouring of community support overwhelmed Aya, but it did not surprise her.
“I was sure the American people would not accept (the executive order),” she said. Many have tried to send her a message of support.
Aya said she has received many messages of support. After the president announced his executive order, Jaden said an American organization left flowers and prayer cards on the steps of the mosque expressing support. He said acts of kindness like this help him focus on peace and try to remain optimistic. Jaden said he believes this order goes against the human spirit and something will change. That could be the way his country and the United States views each other.
Jaden said he came to America with a negative view of the country due to the media attention it received in Yemen. But seeing the motivation of American citizens changed his view. Jaden said he hopes when he returns to Yemen, others will notice a difference in him and obtain a better view on Americans. He said he believes America remains a land of diversity and dreams, and that we can all learn from each other if we will just try.
*Editor’s Note: Names changed for privacy.