Cross-posted at USA Today.
Despite what some may think, coming to the United States is far from easy. While I’m now teaching at Ohio State University, I was once a professor in my native Aleppo, Syria. Reluctantly, I fled my homeland after life became unbearable and I was tortured by the Assad regime. My wife, my children, and I faced a veritable gauntlet of screening procedures before we were granted asylum. My 19-year old son was forced to stay behind for an additional two years of screening, and was finally approved just last week. I know from personal experience that the U.S. visa vetting system is already very thorough — and that President Trump’s latest travel ban is not necessary to keep Americans safe.
The main reason I’m speaking out is because the ban, if allowed to move forward, will have a tragic and personal impact on the lives of many Americans and those whom they love most. Yes, the ban is contrary to the traditional American values I’ve come to love. But its damage will go far beyond contradicting our values. Real people — wives, children, siblings and parents, who might otherwise find safety in the country that saved my life — will face separation and unspeakable harm if the ban is implemented.
I’ll tell you my story and the stories of two of my co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at stopping Trump’s third travel ban from taking effect, and you can decide whether this newest ban is moral, necessary or American in character.
For my family, the ban is personal. When I was granted asylum, one member of my family — my eldest daughter Turkie — was left out. She was over 21 so she did not qualify. As soon as I became a legal permanent resident, I filed a petition to reunite Turkie with our family, and it is still pending. If the ban goes through, simply because she is Syrian, Turkie will be barred from coming here and our family may remain forever shattered. We miss her more than I could ever put into words.
Of course, I want Turkie to have the opportunity to experience the same richness of American life that I have — in fact, she’s already been accepted to study English Literature at Ohio State, if she can ever get here. But I’m even more worried about her safety. She’s currently stuck as a refugee in Turkey, where Syrian girls and women are frequently targeted by criminals. And she could be deported back to Syria, where her life would be at even greater risk. The house we used to own there is now a pile of rubble. There is nothing left there for Turkie or the rest of our family.
Getting Turkie to safety is something I never stop thinking about. If the courts block the ban, like they did the previous two, then there is real hope for my family to be made whole again. But lately, I haven’t just been bearing my own burden. My involvement with this lawsuit has shown me just how many American families will be grievously harmed if the ban is put in place.
Fahed Muqbil is one of my co-plaintiffs in the case. An American citizen who moved to Louisiana from Yemen when he was just a year old, he now lives in Mississippi. Fahed met his wife in Yemen in 2012 while visiting family. Together they have two daughters, both U.S. citizens. With the U.S. embassy in Yemen closed due to the country’s civil war, it has taken longer than he ever dreamed to get his wife here legally.
Fahed had planned to stay with his wife until her travel to the U.S. could be approved, but on Nov. 9, 2016, their second daughter was born with a severe birth defect, requiring intensive medical treatment in the U.S. Fahed’s petition to have his wife join him in the U.S. to help take care of their sick daughter was approved in August, but is pending final approval following a visa interview. The ban would indefinitely separate her from her sick daughter — an inhuman and immoral consequence that does nothing to keep America safe.
Sumaya Hamadmad, another co-plaintiff, is also an American citizen and, like me, an Ohioan. Her sister is legally Syrian but has never lived in Syria, and was in fact born in Jordan. Because of her unique professional qualifications, she has been invited by a renowned U.S. university to participate in a scientific research project. If the ban goes forward, she’ll be unable to visit her sister and other family here, and a top American university will be deprived of her significant contributions to the field of genetic research — simply because of her Syrian heritage. What sense does it make to ban some of the brightest minds from coming to our shores simply because of an irrational fear of their country of origin?
My hope is that those who read these stories will understand that the president’s attack on people from Syria, Yemen and other Muslim countries — his effort to live up to a despicable and un-American campaign promise — does not simply have abstract costs. If the ban takes effect, thousands will suffer, including some of our own American citizens, many of them Muslims, and all of them human.
Our case will be argued in federal court Monday in Maryland, just two days before the Oct. 18 ban is supposed to begin. We have reason to hope. After all, courts stopped the previous versions of the ban. Despite everything, we will continue to have faith in the American legal system to protect us and our loved ones, and the American people who have already welcomed us with open arms.
Eblal Zazkok is a lecturer at Ohio State University's College of Engineering.