Travel ban called unjust

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Yemenis in New York City complain of stigma tied to Trump’s executive order


  • Osama Khalid, who works at the West Side Stop One deli on Amsterdam Avenue, was finalizing U.S. passport applications for his two daughters, who are in Yemen, when President Trump earlier this month signed an executive order barring travel from that country and six others. Photo: Richard Khavkine


On Thursday morning last week, Osama Khalid was doing what occupies most of his days at the West Side Stop One deli: making sandwiches, cooking quick breakfasts and sometimes working the register.

But if Khalid’s hands were doing what’s become near rote work in the month he’s been employed at the Amsterdam Avenue store, his mind was elsewhere — roughly 7,000 miles east, to Sana’a, Yemen, where his two young daughters are waiting to join him and their mother in New York.

A significant obstacle to that reunion came on Jan. 24 when President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Yemen, to the U.S.

“I was trying to get them here,” Khalid said a few hours before he was among hundreds of others at Borough Hall in Brooklyn to protest the edict. Hundreds of Yemeni-owned delis citywide closed their shops from noon to 8 p.m. on Feb. 2, also in protest. He would be among an estimated 2,000 people attending the rally, which was attended and addressed by numerous public officials, including the Manhattan Borough’s president, Gail Brewer.

“We stand against racism. We have human rights,” he said. “It’s not only for my daughters.”

Khalid, 28, is Yemeni, but has been a U.S. citizen since he was a year old. Which means his daughters, 6 and 10 years old, are eligible to also become American citizens.

Securing the passports for the two girls, who are being looked after by Khalid’s sister-in-law, is further complicated by an ongoing civil war in Yemen, where the American embassy in Sana’a has been closed for two years. “It’s too hard,” Khalid said.

A colleague at the deli, Basdeo Boodhan, called the ban — which has since been successfully challenged by a number of state attorneys general — capricious and tactless. “The ban is hurting everyone, whether it’s business or family,” Boodhan said.

There are nearly 12,000 Yemeni-born people in New York City, according to American Community Survey data compiled by the city Comptroller’s Office.

Afaf Nasher, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Yemenis are typically reticent, particularly since a large portion of them are immigrants.

“So for them to be doing this you can imagine how hard the community has been hit,” he said. “Families have been torn apart because of this.”

Hussein Ghabsha, who works and helps run the Golden Deli on Broadway near 137th Street, said Trump’s order runs counter to the very idea of America.

“This country was built on immigrants,” he said. “It’s the greatest country in the world.”

Ghabsha, a 33-year-old father of three born in Yemen and an American citizen since he was a child, suggested that the day’s strike had parallels in the Civil Rights Movement.

“They fought for people to be equal,” he said of the movement’s black leaders.

Trump is “doing something I would never have imagined,” he said two hours before the deli, which is staffed by mostly Yemenis as well as some Central Americans, would close until about 8 p.m.

“He’s the president for everybody. He needs to respect that. He leads for all,” Ghabsha said. “What this country is going through is very sad. ... It’s a damn shame.”

According to Alnamer, the loss of business is ultimately worth the message that the protest will hopefully send to the President. His advice to Trump, he says, is “Let them in.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which on Sunday denied a Justice Department request for a stay of the executive order’s suspension, was to hear oral further arguments on Tuesday from the administration. For now, the Department of Homeland Security is not flagging people travelling from the seven countries named in the executive order, which also include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.

Outside of AMH Deli on Amsterdam at 103rd Street Feb. 2, Frank Cruz, a customer there, suggested that Trump risked alienating and stigmatizing a wide swath of the immigrant population, which he said is patriotic by definition, rather than by default.

“We have to think more critically,” particularly with regard to refugees said Cruz, 47. “We have to understand the nuances.”

He then listed major terrorist attacks — the Sandy Hook and Columbine school shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Orlando, Florida, nightclub massacre — all perpetrated by Americans, all of them American-born. Trump, he said, was “painting with too broad a brush.”

Ghabsha, of the Golden Deli, said that Yemenis who have for years lived legally in the U.S. but who returned to Yemen for any number reasons were being unjustly stigmatizing for what he said arbitrary reasons.

“A lot of people came legally who applied years ago,” he said two hours before the deli, which is staffed by mostly Yemenis as well as some Central Americans, would close until about 8 p.m. “It’s not American. It’s not constitutional.”

Madeleine Thompson and Laura Hanrahan contributed to this report.

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