AMHERST — President Donald Trump’s executive order, leaked Jan. 25, suspended immigration and visitors from predominately Muslim countries while the government reviews its current screening process.
As of Thursday night, the order had not been officially signed, but it drew reactions from foreign-born citizens and area Muslims, among others, that ranged from disappointment and shock to confidence that the country’s Constitution would ultimately protect them.
“People are generally rattled and nervous,” Laurie Millman, executive director of the Center for New Americans, said of the center’s clients.
Others, like Mohammed Al-Jermozi, say they aren’t afraid of the potential order.
“You know why?” asked Al-Jermozi, 54, the owner of the Mocha Emporium at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley. “We live in the Constitution country … we have a real democracy in the U.S. The law and the Constitution will protect us.”
In the draft, called “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” Trump writes that hundreds of foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism related crimes since Sept. 11, 2001 and that the U.S. must be “vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism.”
To do that, Trump suggests a suspension of visas to nationals of countries of “particular concern.” Some of those countries include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
A 120-day suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program as well as the cessation of refugee processing for Syrian refugees is also proposed.
Following the suspension, the order would reduce the number of refugees to 50,000, which is less than half the 110,000 refugees allowed under the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency.At UMass
Spending time in the Muslim Student Association at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Thursday, Ahmad Hamssa, 21, said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the draft order.
Hamssa said the language wasn’t new as Trump had been saying it on the campaign trail for a while.
A junior studying civil engineering, Hamssa said he moved with his family from Omdurman, Sudan in 2003 and still has family back in Sudan. His family now lives in Hyde Park, New York.
Hamssa called the proposed ban “un-American,” saying it went against what the country was founded on.
English literature junior Abdullah Abdul-Rahim, 24, said news of the draft order was not unexpected but disappointing nonetheless.
The Springfield resident said he thought the order was more of an action to test the waters on how far Trump can go rather than assess a security issue.
After seeing a report on television about the order, Al-Jermozi, of the Mocha Emporium, said he told his kids not to worry about it.
“We are safe,” he said.
The founding fathers, Al-Jermozi said, built a strong foundation for the U.S. and one man can’t destroy it.
“If we lived in the Third World, one guy could destroy the whole country,” he said.
Al-Jermozi said everybody wants to stop the terrorists but innocent people don’t need to pay the price.
“We don’t need the majority of Islam to pay the price for ISIS,” he said. “ISIS, they are the devil. I don’t see them as practicing Islam.”
Al-Jermozi, a father of four moved from Yemen to the U.S. on March 23, 1994 to study journalism, said everyone wants America to be safer for everybody. Shock, concern
Elsewhere in Hampshire County, those who work with immigrants and English language learners say people are shocked and concerned.
Millman, of the Center for New Americans, said clients’ nerves are clearly heightened as the national dialogue — the news, the social climate — seems less friendly and welcoming than in the past.
In general, there was uncertainty before the election, Millman said, and there was deepening concern after the election with a lack of clarity.
“There is just hope that there are constitutional protections for us and just deep apprehension,” she said.
Millman said the focus on immigrants and the rhetoric that targets them has been making the center’s students and clients “jumpy” for six months.
For Caroline Gear, executive director of the International Language Institute of Massachusetts in Northampton, the draft order is hard to believe.
“We’re all in a state of shock that this is actually true — this is reality right now,” she said.
“Since 1982, our goal has been focused on serving everyone. We have been teaching free English classes to refugees and immigrants for over 30 years,” Gear said. “We believe in access to education for everyone and we’re just very disheartened to see how the president has come out with this executive order and we’re hoping that it won’t be signed.”
Gear said the language institute has been focused on keeping the school safe for its students and to serve as a place where people can talk about how they are feeling.
Having been with the language institute for more than three decades, Gear has seen presidents and policies change. Following Sept. 11, Gear said there was a decrease in international students coming to the country nationwide as policies changed.
“This feels very different; it’s coming from one person making the decision rather than the whole country,” she said. “The idea of building walls rather than building bridges to help our economy is very disturbing. It is different, more so than 9/11.” Vow to fight order
Reached Thursday before the order was officially released, John Robbins, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations–Massachusetts, said everything was “tentative.”
If signed, Robbins said CAIR “would vigorously oppose any such attempts to marginalize and stigmatize a religious community on constitutional and ethical grounds.”
Within the Muslim community, Robbins said there has been a lot of uncertainty. Those with relatives overseas or people planning vacations or religious trips are now unsure of whether or not they should go through with them, according to Robbins.
“There are a lot of question marks around this,” he said. “If this will be enacted as it is on paper, it would be deeply troubling for people here to study engineering, medicine, law.”
If the executive order is made official, it is unclear if international students, some of whom have spent tens of thousands of dollars on their educations, would be able to return from targeted countries to complete their studies
There may come a time for calls for direct action related to specific issues, Robbins said, but as it stands now the organization is encouraging people interested in this issue to speak with their congressional representatives.
Emily Cutts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.