Courtesy Photo / Delaney Tholen
Members of the local Muslim community are blasting President Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily closes the nation’s borders to refugees, immigrants, and other travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
In San Antonio, home to 13 mosques and a diverse community of 30,000 Muslims, Islamic leaders and many members of the greater community are speaking out against the executive order, which Trump said is part of a larger effort to keep radical Islamic terrorists from entering the country. The order signed Friday bans citizens from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen from coming to the United States for 90 days. It also bans Syrians from doing so indefinitely and appears to favor Christian over Muslim refugees.
Protests at Main Plaza and the San Antonio International Airport on Sunday drew hundreds of supporters, many of whom believe that Trump’s order is discriminatory and perpetuates unnecessary hate and fear of the Muslim community.
“There’s been a lot of pain,” said Besan Abu Radwan, a local activist who came to the U.S. from Palestine as a child refugee and was naturalized in December 2015. “A lot of us [are] feeling intense and immediate amounts of pressure, pressures of being targeted or not being able to practice our freedom of religion.”
Similar, larger demonstrations have been taking place across the nation after groups of immigrants were detained at airports, many overnight, while officials determined whether they could be admitted to the country. Many visa holders were granted temporary stays in the country, and their cases will be processed on an individual basis.
The Trump administration later said that those who hold U.S. visas and are outside of the country will not be barred from re-entry, despite previously stating they would.
Sarwat Husain, board chair of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said many local families are worried and scared. Some have relatives who were forced to return to their country of origin and were treated poorly by U.S. immigration officials.
“It’s a very sad time for us,” said Husain, who came to the U.S. from Pakistan when she was 17 years old. “This is breaking up families, and [it’s sad] not knowing if these people can go and visit their loved ones.”
CAIR, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, filed a federal lawsuit Monday at its headquarters in Washington challenging the executive order. The lawsuit, which can be found here, alleges that the order violates the First Amendment because “its apparent purpose and underlying motive is to ban people of the Islamic faith in Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.”
Many people who are current U.S. visa holders are calling Husain’s office, she said, asking whether they should cancel their travel plans. To be safe, she’s telling them not to leave the country.
“It is cruel, it is humiliating, and it is disgusting to see … tax-paying, law-abiding citizens who are serving the community at large” seen as possible terrorist threats, Husain said. She pointed out that immigrants already go through vetting when entering the U.S.
“This is just spreading false sense of security to the people,” she said.
Bexar County GOP President Robert Stovall told the Rivard Report that his organization is glad to see Trump “following through on his campaign promises.
“This is one of the things he said he was going to do to [make] us a safer America,” he said. Stovall pointed to former President Barack Obama’s delaying of the visa process for Iraqi refugees for six months in 2011, and other actions, as similar to Trump’s ban. Obama delayed the Iraqi visa process after discovering that two Iraqi refugees who were living in Kentucky were involved in bombing attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.
Trump’s ban is not “horrific or extraordinary” and will have a small effect on the communities it pertains to, Stovall said.
“[The ban] is a small inconvenience to pay for the safety of the country,” he said.
Radwan, a refugee herself, feels differently.
“To be away from the warmth of your home and family and being put in a place where you hardly speak the language and it’s a totally different culture – that’s very difficult,” she said. Trump’s executive order “makes that first step in a life that’s full of many more difficult steps for these refugees so much harder.”
Radwan is helping organize a “no ban, no wall” march for Saturday, Feb. 18, to protest Trump’s immigration ban and his plans to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The march will start at Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s local office, at 600 Navarro St., at 11 a.m.
The march is an effort to “make our voices heard to people who are our voice in Congress,” said Lauren Hasha, who is organizing the march with Radwan.
“Specifically we’re targeting John Cornyn to take a stance on the issues we’re seeing because most of our Texas senators have been silent,” Radwan said. “We want them to take a stance and know where they vote.”
The ban may also affect global businesses such as Rackspace, which is headquartered in San Antonio and has offices around the world.
According to a Rackspace company statement, the company is “very concerned about any restrictions that make it more difficult for our employees to travel.
“At our headquarters, as in our international offices, we employ talented engineers and other specialists from scores of countries, including some of the seven countries the President targeted in his restrictions on travel to the U.S.,” the statement said. “… Our human resources and legal teams, aided by outside experts in immigration law, are closely monitoring the evolving official explanations of the restrictions, and advising our employees on how best to deal with them.”
While there seems to be solid grassroots opposition to the ban in San Antonio, there are still many members of the Muslim community who are afraid to speak out, Husain said.
“They don’t want to come and expose themselves because of the ripple effect they get at work, at school, in the neighborhood, from people that know them,” she said.
Hate crimes against Muslim Americans has dramatically increased over the last year, according to an FBI report. Hours after Trump signed the executive order on immigration, a mosque in Victoria, Texas, went up in flames. The Islamic Center of Victoria, which was completely destroyed, was burglarized a week prior and previously had been a target of hate crimes.
Husain and Radwan said they have not been subject to threats of violence since the ban was enacted, but they have dealt with discrimination throughout their lives.
Husain said that in the past year she has heard of five mosques in Texas, including the one in Victoria, that have been torched, had feces smeared on them, or had ripped pages of the Quran scattered on the property.
In order to avoid further conflict and violence targeted toward Muslims, she said, “We have to be calm. We have to stay solid as a community.”
San Antonio is home to a robust Muslim community, said Sussan Siavoshi, Cox Chapman professor of International Relations at Trinity University.
“Among others, Muslims here are educators, doctors, nurses, soldiers, respected business owners, and community leaders,” Siavoshi said. “Most of them have for a long time contributed to the well-being and richness of our larger community, and continue to do so. They are a part of the fabric that constitutes the United States.”
Husain thinks a large portion of the national population understands that, too.
“The country is uniting. When you see thousands of people in every city coming out and fighting against this ban – that gives us hope,” she said. “That gives Americans hope that no matter how much [Trump and his cabinet] want to divide us, we are still the United States of America.”