Leaders in the Maine immigrant community came together in an online meeting Wednesday to celebrate the end of former President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and to discuss how the policy impacted them, members of their community and Muslims around the world.
The conversation came after a recent executive order issued by President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s policy, which barred refugees and residents from seven countries with predominantly Muslim populations from entering the U.S.
Mohamed Ibrahim, a community organizer with Maine People’s Alliance (of which Beacon is a project), kicked off Wednesday’s panel by discussing how it felt when the Muslim ban was first enacted.
“It was shocking. It was devastating. It was hurtful,” Ibrahim said.
Other panelists discussed the impact of the policy after it was put in place. For Ali Al-Mshakheel, a former journalist from Iraq who co-owns a language translation service in Portland, the ban had a very personal effect. He said members of his family who had long been trying to come to the U.S lost hope that they’d ever be allowed into the country after Trump announced the policy.
Al-Mshakheel added that the ban also created widespread fear among immigrants in the U.S., including within his own family. He said after the policy was put in place in 2017, his son asked if their family was going to be sent back to Iraq because they were Muslim.
“These are the stories,” Al-Mshakheel said. “[The Muslim ban] spread fear and discrimination. People were afraid.”
Another panelist, South Portland City Councilor Deqa Dhalac, said that although no one in her household was personally subjected to the ban, the policy had a significant psychological impact. For example, she said her kids were worried that their grandmother — a U.S. citizen who was in Somalia — would be barred from coming to the U.S.
Dhalac said the ban had an overall traumatic effect on youth in the immigrant community, many of whom feared for their future in the U.S. because of the measure.
“It was a racist policy, dividing a certain group of people from the rest of us, [and] it really affected a lot of our people and our community,” Dhalac said.
Still, Dhalac added that out of that trauma came an opportunity for the immigrant community to mobilize and organize as part of the ultimately successful effort to defeat Trump.
Another participant in the discussion, Portland City Councilor Pious Ali, said the ban had a huge effect on many people in Maine’s largest city who weren’t able to connect with their family in other countries because of the policy.
Ali said the ban was hateful and had the effect of shutting the door on many — such as refugees — who were attempting to come to the U.S. to escape unsafe situations.
“I can go on and on and on about the psychological impacts and emotional impacts that the Muslim ban had on Muslims here and all over the world,” he said.
Moving forward under a new president
Although the Muslim ban has caused a massive amount of damage over the past four years, Ali said Biden’s election means there is once again hope for positive developments when it comes to immigration policy.
In the first week of his presidency, Biden has put forward a proposal to provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, although national advocates are ready to apply pressure should he not follow through on his promises.
Dhalac is also optimistic about Biden’s immigration agenda. However, she said Congress could be a barrier.
“What I would say to Congress is ‘Get your act together.’ They need to understand they work for the American people,” she said, adding that lawmakers should do more to respond to the insurrection that occurred at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Al-Mshakhee said Biden’s victory over Trump is a moment to celebrate. He added that he hopes the new president will implement reforms to return the number of immigrants entering the U.S. to Obama-era levels after immigration was significantly curtailed by the Trump.
“Many people I know here in the U.S. are eager to see their loved ones and are eager to unite with their loved ones,” he said.
Ali said he’s thankful that Biden followed through on his pledge to rescind the Muslim ban. However, he said it’s clear that much of the country remains divided after the election and that more needs to be done to facilitate dialogue among people of different political ideologies.
Still, despite those divisions and the challenges that remain ahead, Ali said members of the immigrant community stand ready to use their voices to call for change.
“We will show up. We will email you. We will encourage our communities to email and call you and ask you to support the president’s initiatives that will replace our immigration process and make it better for not just us as a country, but also for everyone who wants to come here,” he said.
Top photo: A LumenARRT! exhibit at Portland’s First Friday Art Walk in January 2020 | | Dan Neumann, Beacon