Hundreds gather outside the William Kenzo Nakamura United States Courthouse in reaction to today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the travel ban
Ramy Almansoob’s children have been asking every day for weeks: “Do we have a decision yet? Do we have a decision yet? Do we have a decision yet?”
The girls, ages 6, 9 and 13, still live in the war-torn capital of Yemen, where the seeming randomness of airstrikes has taught them to brace for a painful end. Last year, they mourned their grandmother, killed by a stray bullet through the head as she sat inside her home.
The girls knew that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon decide whether President Donald Trump’s ban on U.S. entry by citizens of five majority-Muslim countries, including Yemen, would stand. They knew that the ruling would determine whether they and their mother – whose visas were granted on the eve of the ban and then revoked – could finally join their father, a U.S. citizen, in America.
Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling felt like a hammer’s final blow to Almansoob’s lingering hopes. For him and the thousands of other American citizens and permanent residents who have been waiting anxiously for the court’s word, the justices’ decision to uphold the ban presented a verdict not just on the fate of their families, but also on what it means to be American.
“For all my life, I’ve felt that this is my country,” said Almansoob, a 34-year-old structural engineer who was born in the United States and raised in Yemen, returning in 2015 to the suburbs of Washington to build a new life for his family. “We all knew that the United States is the place where you have freedom, and that’s what I always had in my mind. It’s not how it used to be.”
Almansoob applied to bring his wife and daughters to the United States a few months before Trump took office in January 2017. The ban, which seemed to echo Trump’s campaign call “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” quickly followed. And after two amended versions and a series of court battles, the Supreme Court in December allowed for the temporary implementation of the ban on Yemenis, Syrians, Iranians, Somalis and Libyans.
Now the court has upheld the policy, a decision that added permanence to the sentiment among many American Muslims that the government views and treats them differently from other Americans.
“It has put me in the position of second-class citizenship,” said Abrar Omeish, a Libyan American in Virginia who recently ran for a spot on the school board in Fairfax County.
Civil rights and religious advocacy groups across the country reacted to the court’s decision Tuesday in a passionate uproar. They called it “hateful,” “a historic betrayal of values,” “a blank check . . . to discriminate,” a ruling that “will go down in history as one of the Supreme Court’s great failures.”
The Supreme Court “has given a green light to religious discrimination and animus,” warned Farhana Khera, the executive director of the group Muslim Advocates.
The human rights watchdog Amnesty International declared: “This hateful policy is a catastrophe all around.”
Activists made plans for more than a dozen rallies across the country Tuesday night in cities including Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis and Baltimore, with the slogans #NoMuslimBanEver and #StandWithMuslims.
But all the fiery outrage, the planned protests and the outpouring of sympathy and condolences from concerned friends, colleagues and politicians felt suddenly obsolete to Almansoob and many others Tuesday.
What mattered now was the question that Almansoob’s wife was asking through tears over the phone from 13,000 miles away, a few minutes after the decision flashed across television screens worldwide. “She asked that question that I don’t have an answer to,” he said. “What’s next? I don’t see any solution except trying to find another country for myself and my family to live in,” he said.
In North Carolina, another American citizen, Khaled Al-Shawbi, was having a similar conversation with his 16-year-old son, also a Yemeni national, who has been waiting near a U.S. Embassy for the past eight months in a third country, Djibouti, in hopes of securing a visa to join his father.
Now the boy was crying and desperate, and Shawbi did not know what to do.
“He said, ‘Dad, I’m not going back home. Just send me to Malaysia or somewhere to study.’ But I don’t have the money,” said Shawbi, a 41-year-old convenience store manager.
Immigration attorneys and community leaders said Tuesday they have begun fielding calls from American Muslims and others who have interpreted the court’s ruling as an endorsement of a more open American racism.
“The message to Muslims is that you’re not welcome here, we don’t want you here, we want to ban you from traveling to the U.S. and picking the U.S. as your future home,” said Mehdi Ostadhassan, an Iranian national who is a petroleum engineering professor at the University of North Dakota. “The message is that they cannot really count on the United States as their home, and they should probably seek other places to live.”
Ostadhassan, who has an American wife and son, oversees eight PhD students and has four government-funded research projects underway – three in collaboration with medical doctors to explore innovative ways of diagnosing cancer and other diseases.
But Ostadhassan has struggled fruitlessly for years to obtain a green card, and on Tuesday, he said that he and his wife have made up their minds to leave the country.
He wants to be able to visit family members overseas and accept invitations to lectures and conferences without the risk of being blocked on his return, he said.
“Of course I want to stay here,” he said. “My family wants to stay here. But for the sake of my career and my family, I think it makes more sense to leave the country.”
In the suburbs of northern Virginia, Almansoob spent the afternoon driving from construction site to construction site, unable to sit in his office and unable come to terms with the new permanence of his reality.
“I feel so weak. I was so strong until six months ago. I was saying, ‘It’s just the administration, it’s going to change. We know the United States. We know America,’ ” he said. “I felt our Constitution is so strong that it’s not going to change.”
At worst, he thought, the Supreme Court would reach a compromise, something he imagined would “make President Trump happy, but also something to say that U.S. citizens can have visas for their families.”
Now that view just felt naive. It felt unreal that last fall he had been on the verge of buying a three-bedroom townhouse; that he had sent dozens of photos to his wife and children as he picked out furniture and selected bedding in each of the girls’ favorite colors. Now acquaintances are telling him to move to Canada – that even though he’s a U.S. citizen, it will be easier to take his family there.
America has changed. “This administration is building hate in some people’s hearts,” he said. He asked his wife not to give their children the news yet.