On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
As a candidate, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim entry into the U.S. He didn’t get that as president, but he did manage to shut America’s doors to thousands of people from Muslim-majority countries with a ban widely decried as blatantly racist.
The ban separated children from their parents, students from their schools and patients from their doctors.
In one of his first acts as president, Joe Biden lifted the ban. But its effects persist. What have local families suffered under the ban? Can its damage be reversed? And how are Muslim advocates trying to assure that such a ban never happens again?
Produced by Lauren Markoe
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast Chess Champ Jennifer Yu explains how much of the hit Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit" rings true. But first ...
PROTESTERS(chanting) No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.
NNAMDIThat's the sound of crowds protesting at Dulles International Airport shortly after former-President Trump barred citizens of several majority Muslim countries from entering the United States. What is commonly called the Muslim Ban was federal policy for four years.
NNAMDIPresident Biden lifted the ban on his very first day as president greatly relieving Muslims and their allies. But thousands of families still suffer the bans consequences including many here in the Washington region. What damage did the ban do? And how are Muslim advocates and their allies trying to reverse its worst consequences? Joining us now is Edward Ahmed Mitchell, an Attorney and the Deputy Director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. Edward Mitchell, thank you for joining us.
EDWARD AHMED MITCHELLThank you so much for having me, a pleasure.
NNAMDIWe'll get to the ban in a minute, but first, tell us about your organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations commonly known as CAIR. What does it do?
MITCHELLSure. CAIR is our nation's largest Muslim civil rights organization. We were founded back in 1994 before anyone really even knew what the word islamophobia meant, because we recognized that just like there's the NAACP for African Americans that the American Muslim community needed an organization to stand up for, fight for, defend the civil rights of our community and empower our community to advance positive change in our country.
MITCHELLSo over the past 27 -- 25 years now we've been focusing on countering anti-Muslim bigotry in the court of law and the court of public opinion, building ties with other civil rights groups from different communities, making sure that we're empowering young American Muslims to take on the struggle to advance positive change and finally I think making sure we're not just focusing on issues that seem unique to Muslims, but all the issues that people should care about, issues of justice, police brutality, racism, economic opportunity and, of course, pursuing a just humanitarian foreign policy. So we are essentially a civil rights and advocacy organization with a Muslim perspective.
NNAMDILet's go back to 2015 when then candidate Donald Trump made headlines calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Can you remember what you and Muslim American friends and colleagues were thinking when you first heard those words?
MITCHELLWell, to be honest with you, my first reaction was, I can't believe he said that. My second reaction was, this man will never be president and this will never happen. Obviously I was wrong on a few different counts. I think that, you know, the American Muslim community very quickly recognized that Donald Trump's call for a complete ban on Muslims coming to the United States was going to unleash a new wave of very dangerous anti-Muslim bigotry. We as Muslims had been hearing that sort of thing in the dark recesses of the internet for years. That was nothing new.
MITCHELLBut the fact that a high profile, highly ranked candidate for president of the United States had said that and was wildly applauded by his audience really indicated that anti-Muslim bigotry had gone from fringe to mainstream, especially within the Republican Party. And that even if he didn't become president, even if a Muslim ban never happened we were in for a real threat of people being whipped up and feeling like they can, you know, turn their anti-Muslim bigotry into action.
MITCHELLAnd obviously that is exactly what happened. A rise in hate crimes, a rise in discrimination and, of course, Donald Trump was elected and then implemented a Muslim ban. So I think we were shocked concerned, but not cowed. I think it just, you know, made the Muslim community even more intent on standing up for our rights and turning out to vote in 2016.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Carmel Delshad who is a Reporter and Editor at WAMU. Carmel, thank you so much for joining us.
CARMEL DELSHADThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDICarmel, which countries were ultimately included in that travel ban?
DELSHADWell, there were several iterations of the ban. The first one being the harshest from January 2017 eventually down to what is colloquially called Muslim Ban 3.0. Countries like Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Kirgizstan were also added, roughly about 13 countries in total being affected by this ban.
NNAMDIDespite the fact that Trump had made bigoted remarks about Muslims as Edward Ahmed Mitchell pointed to earlier, his administration did not bill what it called the travel ban as a Muslim ban. How did the Trump administration justify the ban?
DELSHADWell, if you look at when Trump actually signed this presidential proclamation, he said quote, I'm establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States. So that was at the signing of this. Of course, they likely knew they couldn't call it a Muslim ban in the proclamation, but it was under the umbrella of what they called national security under his America First policy to stop terrorism and what they called terrorists coming from in the country. Rights groups obviously immediately took issue of this from the ACLU to CAIR to other Muslim advocates and immigration advocates throughout the country saying this is just a vailed attempt to stop Muslims from entering the country.
NNAMDICarmel, did the travel ban aimed at specific Muslim countries amount to the quoting here "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the country" that Trump had called for?
DELSHADWell, he didn't quite get that, but the executive order did initially focus on Muslim majority countries. So, you know, very clearly remember being in Dulles on January 2017 and the folks, who were predominantly affected were coming from Muslim majority countries. You know, in the beginning Iraq was affected. There were people who were coming from visiting family who couldn't get through. And, again, go back to his 2015 statements calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the country. This was him fulfilling a campaign promise.
DELSHADIn addition to that, the first iteration of the ban actually also had people -- were giving people a priority of religious minorities to enter the United States. And if you're giving priority to religious minorities in Muslim majority countries, well, you can read between the lines there.
NNAMDIHere is Mark in Salisbury, Maryland. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKHey, Kojo. What I'm trying to say is that really Trump is the greatest con artist that ever existed, because he told his supporters, okay, we banned all the Muslims. No more Muslims are coming in. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, those countries are Muslim countries, but his supporters, his diehard supporters unless they're Harvard graduates, they don't know that those are Muslim countries. They were coming and going as they please. In the meantime, he picks the seven worst off, the poorest of the poor in the world, which are like Yemen or Sudan or Somalia or Syria that are all -- you know, how Syria was.
MARKSo those guys got banned and he told his supporters, okay, we banned the Muslims, when all the Muslims coming in are from Saudi Arabia. They were coming and going as they pleased, but his supporters don't know that those are Muslim countries. And the first country he visited was Saudi Arabia and he was dancing with the sword dance, because they gave him hundreds of millions of dollars as a tip, just a tip because that's an old Arab custom. They call it the (speaks foreign language), you know. So they got -- he got his money from them and that's the whole bottom line for Trump. It's money.
NNAMDIIndeed. Thank you very much for you call, Mark, because Edward Mitchell many questioned how the countries on the list were selected and the logic of which were included and which were not. That is precisely what Mark was addressing. What do you make of it?
MITCHELLYeah. Well, a few things. So number one, you know, I think that President Trump absolutely picked, you could say the low hanging fruit. He picked on the Muslim countries that he thought he could get away with picking on. Obviously, he was not going to ban Saudi Arabia, which is a major military ally of the United States and a country that he obviously has personal ties to. He wasn't going to ban the UAE for the same reason. And even though, you know, some of the 911 hijackers came from countries that were not targeted by the Muslim ban, he picked on the countries that, you know, he thought he'd get away with banning.
MITCHELLAnd obviously he couldn't ban every Muslim country in the world, because that would be indisputably unconstitutional. So he tried to ban as many of the countries as he could get away with banning. And I think even though it was only seven countries, you're talking about hundreds of millions of people that were impacted by the end of this when you add all the numbers up, the populations of all these countries.
MITCHELLAnd he made it even more clear that he was going after Muslims because the very first version of the ban had exception. If you were a religious minority within one of those countries, you could still come to the United States. Well, obviously if you're a Muslim majority country and you're a religious minority in the country, you're not a Muslim. So the first version of the ban was explicitly designed to ban as many Muslims as he could get away with banning. And as your caller said, you know, the real purpose was to send a message to his anti-Muslim supporters, I've done what you asked, as much as I can anyway, and they were happy with it.
NNAMDIYou have a clear recollection of the day that the Trump administration rolled out the ban. You say that timing was particularly and intentionally hurtful to the people it targeted. What do you mean by that?
MITCHELLRight, well, normally, you know, if an administration announces a new policy especially an immigration rule, there will be time for the public to comment on it, time for the government to prepare. In this case, President Trump was inaugurated on Friday January 20th. The following Friday evening, not even the morning, that evening he signed the executive order. I mean, immediately unleashing chaos at airports across the country and around the world because immediately it came into effect.
MITCHELLAnd so you had 700 people in total who were detained, arrested at airports in our country. People who had gotten on a plane in Syria or Libya or whatever country they came from where they were at that time, they were allowed to come. And by the time they landed in the United States they were banned and they were not able to complete their journey. And that included lawful permanent residents, people who may have been in this country for a year, 10 years, 20 years, a family here, a business here. Even they in the first version were not allowed to come.
MITCHELLAnd so it just unleashed utter chaos. It seemed to be deliberately designed to hurt as many people as possible. And Steve Bannon actually said that the timing was deliberate. That they were actually hoping to spark backlash among leftists and liberals as they would call those Americans, because Steve Bannon felt that would make Donald Trump supporters even happier. So it was really playing dice with people's lives. And it caused widespread destruction.
NNAMDIHere's Bill in Virginia. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLHi. Yeah, I just wanted to say I was one of the Americans that responded when the Muslim ban went into effect. I went down to Dulles airport. And the thing that struck me the most of the outpouring of support for the Muslims coming into the United States were how many former Peace Corp and current and former State Department diplomats were there. I knew everybody. And I'm former Peace Corp and former State Department. It was just amazing to see that all these Americans, who lived in Muslim countries who had positive experiences overseas were among those that mobilized to support Muslims coming to the U.S.
NNAMDIThank you. Thank you very much for your call. Bill, we'll talk with Carmel Delshad about that when we come back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the Trump Muslim ban and President Biden lifting the ban on his first day in office. Our last caller was talking about demonstrations. Carmel Delshad, the reaction to the ban was swift and loud and you were an eye witness to some of those protests locally. What did you see and what struck you about the protest?
DELSHADThat's right. You know, including the tape that you played at the beginning of the segment, it was quite a site. You know, I got out of my car at the parking lot at Dulles and I didn't even have to look beyond two feet before I saw protestors walking into the international terminal with balloons and signs to welcome people as they made it through immigration. The amount of people that were there just crowded the hall completely. And I remember very distinctly that whenever somebody would come out of immigration from behind the security section that people would erupt in cheers as soon as they were out, and a wave welcoming them.
DELSHADOne of the things that sort of sticks with me till this day is a husband and wife who were traveling. The husband was picking up his wife. She was in Iraq and she's a green card holder. She was held up for questioning for three hours. And a veteran happened to be there and he gave his Purple Heart to this husband. He said like, "This isn't what I fought for. This is my Purple Heart to you to welcome you to this country and to say that this is not what America stands for." And, you know, it was kind of a chaotic scene. We weren't even sure what we were witnessing, myself and a couple of other journalists. But he actually gave his Purple Heart to this husband and they kept it. And he kept it to this day. And it was just a site to behold.
NNAMDILet's talk about some of the effects of the ban, Carmel. In your reporting you've spoken to many people who saw their families torn apart including families from this area. Can you tell us about some of them?
DELSHADOf course, yes. I had a story that just aired this morning on wamu.org. And it chronicles really two families who've been torn apart by the ban. One of them is a Syrian American. She lives in Falls Church. And she went over to Lebanon to help with the Syrian refugee care efforts over there. And she ended up meeting a field coordinator, who himself is a Syrian refugee who worked for an NGO there. It's kind of a weird 21st century twist on their love story, but they fell in love and they got engaged. But he's not been able to enter the country since they've been engaged since 2017.
DELSHADShe's been trying to petition the government to bring him over on a fiancée visa. And now really time is of the essence, because she's pregnant with their first child and she's due in April. And she's wondering, well, if I give birth, will I give birth alone. And if so, then I'll have to wait until the baby and I are cleared to travel and we'll go to Lebanon so we can finally be reunited as a family.
DELSHADThis is just one of thousands of stories of people locally and nationally even internationally who have been touched by the ban. And advocates are saying, you know, everybody has a unique story. And with Biden rescinding the ban it is no longer law currently. But there's still a backlog of cases, thousands of cases to get through that were pending, that were denied. And each one of those has a story to tell.
NNAMDIYou know, Edward Mitchell, your organization spent much of the past four years trying to help people who face serious crisis, because of this ban. Is there any way to calculate the number of people affected by the ban?
MITCHELLNot really. I mean, at CAIR we've got around 30 chapters nationwide and if you total up all the complaints we receive and all the clients we help, you're really talking about thousands of people around the country. And then, you know, who knows how many more people, who didn't even bother to try to come anymore, because the ban was in place. There's no way to quantify it, but you can say there were many people. And what really concerns me is not only the people who were banned, but the damage that can't be reversed.
MITCHELLYou know, what about someone who needed to come here for medical treatment -- lifesaving medical treatment and they died, you know, while waiting to get here because of the ban? What about the mother who wasn't able to come here to see her child before a child passed away of an illness? What about someone who was coming here to go to school? They had an accepted application to a top university and they missed out on the chance to come here to go to college, to go to grad school here, because of the ban.
MITCHELLSo there are countless people, who have suffered irreparable damage. We're happy the ban is gone and we're going to be working very hard to try to get people, who were impacted to get them into this country. So they can be reunited with their families, go to school, start their jobs. But there are a lot of people who were damaged and that damage, you know, just cannot be undone.
NNAMDICarmel, how about waivers? Didn't the ban allow for some people to apply for waivers and get into the country that way?
DELSHADYes. A later iteration of the ban did have a process for waivers, but it was not guaranteed. And speaking with immigration experts they said a lot of times waivers were rarely granted. State Department data from December 2017 to December 2020 shows that there were about 66,000 applications that were considered for a favor -- for a waiver rather. But only about 24,000 actually had waivers issued. So there is a plan now under the State Department to direct embassies and consulates to process visa applications for people who were subject to the restrictions. And those should be rolling out any moment really. But in the meantime people are still waiting to hear what happens from now out.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Will who writes, "I'm a liberal and I do not believe in discrimination nor did I support Trump. Muslims, however, who complain about Americans fears and concerns about unlimited travel to and from Muslim majority countries should understand that when there are Muslim leaders committing terrorist acts and kidnapping and beheading so called infidels on camera in the name of Islam, most non-Muslims, even liberals would support some form of travel restrictions." Edward Ahmed Mitchell, how would you respond to that?
MITCHELLWell, I think that goes to tell you that no matter whether someone calls themselves a liberal or a conservative that does not make them immune to being an unknowing, unaware bigot. I mean, first of all, just to address the factual claim he made, he said that Muslim leaders are going around decapitating people or engaged in violence. That's just factually not true. In fact, groups like ISIS absolutely hate Muslim leaders who currently exist around the world and are dedicated to overthrowing those leaders.
MITCHELLSo when you do see extremists Muslims engaging in violence as we did during the rise of ISIS, you know, those are individual people, not leaders, not countries, not governments, individual extremists. And just like we don't, you know, attribute radicalism to all Republicans or all conservatives because of what happened on January 6th on the Capitol, just like I as a Muslim, you know, don't look strangely or want to ban white men from coming to this country, because some of the people who've blown up mosques in this country, open fire at mosques around the world were white men.
MITCHELLJust like I don't do that, because that would be racist and bigoted and ridiculous, our dear emailer should have the same perspective. You don't punish an entire group of people, because of the actions of a few extremists. And as Americans, as a lawyer, I mean, even if you wanted to do that you can't do it. The constitution does not allow you to punish an entire faith group, because you're afraid that some members of that faith group might do something bad. That is not how America works. That's not how the law works. That's not how the constitution works.
MITCHELLSo I would hope my dear friend would study a little bit more of current events. And also meet with some Muslims so that he knows what Muslims really believe and practice and can recognize that the overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are wonderful people just like anyone else. And pose no threat to their neighbors.
NNAMDIHere is Jeremy in Washington. Jeremy, your turn. Hi, Jeremy, are you there?
JEREMYThank you. I appreciate you taking my call. I think one of the things that we have to try to get our minds around is what would even allow a rational American to legitimize something like this. One thing I'd say and I don't think it was the actual goal of the administration -- I think theirs, probably, was more of a generalized hatred, racist thing. But I think if you were to just decide I'm going to like to a travel ban with five top sponsors of state terrorism -- violent state terrorism, because we all know there's a lot going on out there that's not violent. I think it's still -- and I could be wrong about this, it would still be predominantly Muslim countries that are doing that.
NNAMDIOkay. We are running out of time. So you have 30 seconds Edward Ahmed Mitchell to respond to that, please.
MITCHELLWell, I'll just note that, you know, if the definition of terrorism is killing innocent people to achieve a political religious goal then the top five countries are not all going to be Muslim majority countries. In fact, if you're just looking at the behavior of governments you're going to be looking at places like Myanmar, which has committed ethnic cleansing in Rohingya Muslims. You're going to look at places like China, which is currently engaged in a genocide of Uyghur Muslims. And in fact, many victims of American foreign policy would say, you know, we have some concerns about the American government. So, you know, this notion that you're going to say Muslims and Muslim countries are responsible for all the terrors in the world, this is factually inaccurate.
NNAMDIEdward Ahmed Mitchell is an Attorney and the Deputy Director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. Carmel Delshad is a Reporter and Editor at WAMU at least for the next few weeks or so. Carmel is moving on. Carmel, I have missed seeing you for the past almost a year and I want to say on behalf of everybody at WAMU we're all going to miss you, your presence in the studio and on the air. So thank you so much for joining us, Carmel, and good luck to you.
DELSHADThank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, Chess Champ Jennifer Yu explains how much of the hit Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit" rings true. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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