Immigrant, refugee ban keeping Dearborn family apart
Abubaker Hassan was supposed to reunite with his wife and baby daughter this week after three months apart.
Now, separated by an ocean — and President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration — the couple communicates mainly via phone and FaceTime, anxious about what’s next.
Hassan’s wife, Sara Hamad, took their baby daughter, Alma, to visit family in Qatar in November. But they’re unable to return to Metro Detroit because of the order, which suspends refugee admissions for 120 days and bars all immigration for 90 days from seven Muslim-majority countries with terrorism concerns.
“I’m missing milestones,” Hassan, 36, of Dearborn said Tuesday. “(My daughter) has already been away for three months. I’m devastated. They were supposed to come back here (Monday) after spending three months in Qatar. I’m not sure what to do now. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Hassan is in the United States on a J-1 visa, which allows immigrants into the country to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs. He is a doctor doing his second year of postgraduate training in internal medicine under a program at the Detroit Medical Center.
Both Hassan and his wife are Sudanese and Muslim; they married nearly two years ago. Hamad is in the country on a J-2 visa, which is for spouses and dependents of J-1 visitors. He said he hasn’t been back to Sudan in about four years and his wife hasn’t been there for at least five.
Their daughter was born Sept. 22 in Detroit.
Hamad took the baby to visit her family in Qatar, where Hamad was raised, Hassan said. He worked in Qatar and met his wife there.
“It’s kind of a Sudanese tradition for a new mother to visit her family to celebrate the new baby,” he said.
On Friday, Trump issued the order for Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It indefinitely bars the processing of refugees from Syria. The action aims to keep terrorists out of the United States and strengthen national security, according to Trump.
Metro Detroit is home to one of the largest concentration of Muslims in the U.S. and some say no region will feel the impact of the travel ban more.
It’s not clear how many, if any, visitors to Detroit from those seven Muslim-majority countries have been detained at Detroit Metro Airport or the Michigan border with Canada. On Tuesday, officials with U.S. Customers and Border Protection could not be reached for comment. Officials also did not respond to requests for comment Monday and over the weekend.
Hassan said as his wife prepared to return home, she contacted the U.S. embassy in Qatar and was told she would meet with a U.S. government representative at the airport and he would help her get on a flight to Detroit. But no one from the embassy was there, he said.
Furthermore, the airline carrier Hamad hoped to fly to the U.S. — Qatar Airways — informed her she wouldn’t be allowed on her plane.
“There is no issue for my daughter to come back because she is a U.S. citizen,” he said. “But my wife is Sudanese on a J-2 visa, so she’s included in the ban.”
Hassan said he has been advised not to travel outside the U.S. “I may not be able to come back in,” he said.
He took Tuesday off from work to figure out his next move and consult with an immigration lawyer, he said.
“I can’t focus on work,” he said. “It’s a serious job. We’re talking people’s lives. I can’t be distracted.”
In the meantime, Hassan said his wife is sending him pictures. .
“Sara is devastated, emotional and worried about what’s happening,” he said. “At least she’s with her family.”
But there’s another concern looming, Hassan said. Hamad’s visa to visit Qatar is set to expire at the end of the month. If she can’t return to the U.S., she may have to travel to one of Qatar’s neighboring countries to get a new visa so she can continue staying with her family.
Hassan said the ban vexes him, especially since he’s gone through the lengthy process of applying for his visa in addition to getting security clearance from the federal government to work at the Veterans Hospital in Detroit.
“I understand it’s to protect America from bad guys, but I don’t know how we’re classified as bad guys based on our country of origin,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t know what else I can do to reassure everyone that we are not the bad guys.”