Travel ban criticism highlights family ties

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Morteza Taiebat is a dual Ph.D student at the University of Michigan who’s getting married this summer to his fiancee Elham Amini in Iran.

The couple plan to live in Ann Arbor through 2021 while Taiebat completes his studies in environmental sustainability and civil engineering.

But he is worried about their chances of being together after their August nuptials because of new provisions in the Trump administration’s 90-day travel ban that took effect Thursday evening. Under it, those seeking a visa to enter the U.S. must show close business or family ties — but fiancee is not a covered relationship.

“We are absolutely worried,” said Taiebat. “We don’t know what to do. It’s a very uncertain time for us. Of course we want to be a couple, and be here as long as I am a student.”

Taiebat’s fiancee, who lives in Iran, is among the people from six Muslim-majority countries covered by the travel ban who will soon seek visas to enter the U.S.

The travel ban, proposed five months ago, took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court decided this week to let parts of it go forward, including barring entry to those traveling from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen who lack any “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

The High Court said it would hear arguments in October.

Under the new provisions, those with an approved visa will not lose it. Others eligible to enter from the six countries must show they have a spouse, parent, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling who lives in the U.S.

Hawaii filed an emergency motion Thursday asking a federal judge to clarify that the administration cannot enforce the ban against fiancés or relatives not defined by the administration guidelines. Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said many of the people that the federal government decided to exclude are considered “close family” in Hawaii.

Similarly, some advocates for immigrants from the six countries are outraged that the covered relationships do not include extended family, especially grandparents.

A Twitter campaign was begun to protest some of the provisions: #GrandparentsNotTerrorists, started by the National Iranian American Council’s action group. A handful of people posted photos.

“This is my lovely grandma. @realDonaldTrump does she look like a terrorist to you?” tweeted Elham Khatami, NIAC national outreach director.

While some are frustrated by the provisions, which emerged this week, others say the Trump administration has the right to impose the restrictions.

“What it really means is that people coming on casual travel are not going to be allowed in the U.S.” said Richard Kent, an Eastpointe-based immigration lawyer. “The president’s restriction are lawful; he has the power to do it, so I am not surprised at the Supreme Court ruling.

“The wisdom of the policy is open to debate,” Kent continued. “We are obviously going to offend a lot of the Muslim community. On the other hand, every one of the nations (on the travel ban list) are somewhere in between chaos and disorder.”

But the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations promised a legal fight.

“By arbitrarily dividing American Muslims from their grandparents and other close relatives overseas, the Trump administration’s new rules violate the Supreme Court’s decision,” said CAIR’s national executive director, Nihad Awad.

Dawud Walid, executive director at CAIR’s Michigan chapter, said his group is “bracing for a potential calls that will take place due to harassment starting this weekend. We will be monitoring calls that come into our office for a quick response.”

Many others agreed the ban discriminates against residents of the six affected countries.

“What defines a close relationship?” said Nasser Beydoun, chairman of the Arab American Civil Rights League in Dearborn. “In the end, (those) who are going to suffer are those from countries that are war-torn and being punished for policies that are racist.”

Sean DeFour, vice president of child and family services at Samaritas, the largest refugee resettlement agency in Michigan, said they know that any refugee with travel booked through Thursday will get in. But after that, they are waiting for guidance on who will be allowed to come until the Supreme Court hears the case.

“As a faith-based organization,” DeFour said, “we feel when we fear people who are different from us, we are not living in Christ’s image. We don’t feel the travel ban is reflective of who we are as a nation.”

Staff Writer Mark Hicks and Associated Press contributed.