Trump’s immigration ban closes the door and changes lives

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Dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators cheer and hold signs as international passengers arrive at Dulles International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump's executive order barring visitors, refugees and immigrants from certain countries to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017.  REUTERS/Mike Theiler - RTSXYQP

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JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, President Trump’s executive order barring people coming to the U.S. from certain countries sparked widespread protests and confusion over the weekend.

The NewsHour’s William Brangham spent much of yesterday tracking that response, and talking with people who’ve been affected by the order.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The arrivals gate at any airport, not just here at Dulles outside of Washington, is normally a quiet scene of warm greetings and family reunions, but not this weekend.

Protests erupted within hours Friday and continued all weekend, after President Trump issued his sweeping executive order temporarily barring all refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations. Syrian refugees were blocked indefinitely.

The president said it was crucial to keeping America safe.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Protection of the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States. We all know what that means.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Trump administration insisted again today that coverage of the problems has been overblown. But the orders did cause widespread confusion at the nation’s airports. Who was turned away? Who had been detained? Did having a green card mean you could enter?

According to media reports, customs and immigration officials had little advance warning of the order, a claim the White House denied. An army of volunteer lawyers gathered to help families of those detained.

Mariam Masumi is an immigration attorney in Northern Virginia.

MARIAM MASUMI, Immigration Attorney: There was no communication between any of the agencies. I think that this order was just issued without any cooperation, collaboration. And it’s caused a lot of confusion on the part of so many agencies. Without the knowledge and whether those people are back there, we can’t help.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Even members of Congress said they were in the dark. Representative Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, was at Dulles trying to find out if people being detained had access to lawyers, as a federal judge had ordered. Beyer said he couldn’t even find out how many people were being held.

So, you, as a member of Congress, cannot get an answer as to how many people our government is holding here?

REP. DON BEYER, D-Va.: That’s exactly correct right now. This notion of cooperation between the executive branch and the legislative branch seems to have totally broken down.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And it wasn’t just Democrats. Congresswoman Barbara Comstock is a Republican who’s long advocated for stricter vetting of immigrants. But she said this move was too broad and poorly executed.

REP. BARBARA COMSTOCK, R-Va.: We need to go back to the drawing board on this. As I have consistently said, we shouldn’t have a ban on people coming to this country based on religion.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The executive order caused problems outside the U.S. as well. With the policy issued so swiftly, Ali Abdi didn’t know what to do. Abdi is a Yale Ph.D. student originally from Iran who was studying abroad. He lives in the U.S. and has a green card. And even though officials have clarified that means he can come home, he was worried about trying.

I spoke with him via Skype from Dubai this morning.

ALI ABDI, Green Card Holder: There has been even changes in the way the order has been interpreted over the last 48 hours. And I am very, very hopeful that the other side of the U.S., which is not bigotry and racism, changes the status quo.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He says people like him are not the ones to be feared.

ALI ABDI: Let’s see who are these people who are now banned from entering the country. There are students like me, graduate students who are doing their Ph.D.s, doing their master’s. And they were later meant to serve the American public by teaching there, by producing knowledge there.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Another Ph.D. student and green card holder tried her luck getting back home on Friday night. Nisrin Elamin is Sudanese, but she’s lived in the U.S. for 20 years. She’s getting her Ph.D. at Stanford, but was in Sudan doing research. Her return was a homecoming like no other.

NISRIN ELAMIN, Green Card Holder: I was taken to a room and I was patted down, which was quite uncomfortable because I was touched in my chest and groin area. And then I was handcuffed very briefly, at which point I started to cry, not so much because of the handcuffs, but because, at that point, I felt like I was probably going to get deported.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: After more than five hours at JFK Airport in New York, Elamin was released and told it would be best for her not to leave the U.S. again, leaving her potentially separated from her family indefinitely.

NISRIN ELAMIN: But the order, as it stands right now, my parents aren’t green card holders, and they, at this point, will not be able to apply for a visa to enter the United States if they wanted to visit me.

Similarly, my sister, who lives in Australia and is a dual citizen, cannot apply for a visa. So, at present, we’re in three different continents, and we can’t see each other because I’m also not comfortable traveling. And that makes me very sad. It also scares me a little bit.

ZAINAB CHAUDRY, Council on American-Islamic Relations: With just a stroke of a pen, people’s lives have changed completely.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Zainab Chaudry is with the Council on American-Islamic relations. She arranged for some speakers to come to this Muslim center in Maryland to help answer people’s questions. Her group, CAIR, filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the constitutionality of the president’s order.

ZAINAB CHAUDRY: I received a phone call from a man who’s not a citizen. He’s a legal permanent citizen, LPR, and his mother passed away in Iran. And he was advised by his attorney to not travel to Iran to bury his mother because he wouldn’t be able — chances are he wouldn’t be able to return to the United States.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Last night at his mosque in Washington, D.C., Imam Talib Shareef said even American citizens in his congregation are afraid.

TALIB SHAREEF, Imam: They’re afraid because they don’t know. Obviously, there’s a sense of anger right now that this is happening. They’re saying, how could this have been allowed to happen? They’re contributing citizens. They haven’t done anything wrong. They have no intentions of doing anything wrong.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He’s worried these fears could fester into anger, and stir the pot of resentment.

TALIB SHAREEF: We’re now going to create enemies and we’re going to divide the country further. They are hearing significant people from the administration saying, we’re just getting started.

So, what does that mean? What does that mean for the citizens who share a religious label that has been targeted? What does that mean?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Trump administration says that, in time, people will see the value of this action and it will improve the nation’s security.

But, meanwhile, protesters, lawyers and religious groups alike continue to watch, warily.

For the PBS NewsHour I’m William Brangham in Washington, D.C.

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