When Belal Rajab, a refugee fleeing the Syrian civil war, resettled in Stone Mountain, Georgia, he thought his family would join him days later. But in the months after Donald Trump announced a travel ban on immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries, including Syrian refugees, Rajab began to lose hope. “It’s very painful to be away from them. My happiness is not complete because my family is not with me. I have no one to talk to. I have a neighbor but it’s not enough,” he told CNN last year. “I hope when I get a job it will help distract me.”
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld Donald Trump’s third and final iteration of the travel ban against nationals from five Muslim-majority countries—Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Iran—North Korea, and, in specific cases, Venezuela (here’s a complete list on the rules of entry for each country), which has been in effect since December. The ruling means that thousands of immigrants and their families will be separated indefinitely, and immigrants here to work or study might not be able to come back into the country if they leave. Passed down days after the Trump administration signed an executive order to detain undocumented families indefinitely at the border, the ruling is a significant win for Trump’s xenophobic agenda. In the court’s 5-4 opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged Trump’s repeated anti-Muslim comments, though he ultimately concluded that because the proclamation “says nothing about religion,” Trump’s ban was justified.
“This is basically another face of the Trump administration’s agenda of separating immigrant families,” Esther Sung, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, told Jezebel. The ban has separated children from their parents, spouses from each other, and means that relatives in the banned countries may never see their U.S. relatives again. “They will not be able to come to the United States. They will not be able to reunite with their family member,” Song said.
She told me about one U.S. citizen with a 15-year-old son of Yemeni descent who effectively cannot come back to the country since her son cannot enter with her. “I think it’s harder for people to wrap their arms around the harms that this ban inflicts on affected individuals because it’s not so acute and traumatic as seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms at the border, but the effects are essentially still the same,” she said.
The ruling also means that students and workers on nonimmigrant visas are particularly vulnerable, and might not be allowed back into the U.S. Individuals who are renewing their visas, or hoping to extend their visas, are also exceedingly unlikely to maintain their status. “They either have to wrap up their affairs here and leave, or they would have to stay past the terms of their visa,” Song explained, and risk “having an undocumented presence here.”
Faraj Aljarih, a Libyan graduate student at Washington State University, had to alter his education plans after the ban. “I was hoping to pursue my Ph.D. at WSU, but I had to leave the country to see my family after four years of doing master’s in the States,” he told Inside Higher Ed. Unsure that he’d be able to return to the U.S. because of the ban, Aljarih applied to programs in Canada, where he gained admittance.
Foreign nationals from the banned countries can apply for waivers to enter the country, but the Trump administration rarely grants them. Between Dec. 8 through April 30, the first five months of the ban, Slate reports that only 1.7 percent of 33,176 visa applicants from the banned countries received waivers. NPR reports that Amr Mozeb, a US citizen with two sons who are also both US citizens, is married to a Yemeni national who was among those denied a visa and a waiver. The family fled the Yemeni civil war and relocated to Djibouti, but want to return to the US.
Ibraham Qatabi, a legal worker at The Center for Constitutional Rights, told NPR that Mozeb’s situation is not uncommon. “Some had already been told their visas were approved only to later be given denials pursuant to the presidential proclamation, while others were still awaiting processing and harbored little hope. In several cases we reviewed, some siblings obtained a visa while others did not, resulting in families being torn apart.”
The legal challenge to the Muslim ban might not be over. “Justice Kennedy’s said that if animus can be proven, then a case can go forward,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project told Jezebel. “We’re still evaluating our options.”
In the meantime, American Muslims anticipate assaults and hate crimes against their community to continue to rise. “One, we are expecting an increase of attacks against our community, because it only further fuels those who see this as a right, a way of attacking Muslims,” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota, said in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio of Tuesday’s ruling, “and secondly, we believe other countries are going to be added and they’re going to be Muslim countries, and so this is going to impact our community greatly.”