Every time Shareefa, a pregnant Yemeni woman, has a call with her husband and children in the US, the conversation ends in tears.
At an event commemorating the second anniversary of President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar told the story of Shareefa, who has been denied a visa to join her family in America.
“This upsets me because I just got off the phone with my three children, and I struggle with how this fits into any of the values that this country holds,” Omar said.
The parallels between Omar, who is Somali American, and Shareefa are apparent – both are mothers, both Muslims, both from a country targeted by the ban. One of them, however, is a sitting member of Congress while the other is being treated as a security risk and blocked from coming into the country.
The juxtaposition may serve to highlight the arbitrary and unfair nature of the ban, which severely restricts travel from several Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Syria, Libya and Iran.
Omar and other Democratic members of Congress rallied against the Muslim ban on Monday, vowing to push against Trump’s executive order through legislative means.
“I know first-hand how destructive this policy is to millions of people across the world who want to come to this country to seek a better life,” Omar told a crowd of dozens of activists at a hall in the US Capitol building.
The congresswoman said the administration has succeeded in imposing a “religious test” that would keep Muslims from coming into the country, citing research showing that the administration has cut down the admission of Muslim refugees by 91 percent since taking office.
“Trump might not have gotten his border wall, but he’s created an invisible wall keeping out people around the world, based solely on their religion,” Omar said.
‘American made bombs’
The Democratic lawmakers, who are now in control of the House of Representatives, pledged to choke the ban financially by denying funds to its implementation. Congresswoman Judy Chu and Senator Chris Murphy had re-introduced a 2017 bill that would “prohibit the use of any funds or fees to implement” the order.
“As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, one of reasons I lose sleep at night over the Muslim ban is because I put it side by side with what we are doing in the nations from which we are denying entry to the United States,” Murphy, an outspoken critic of the war in Yemen, said on Monday.
“We are dropping American made bombs on countries, creating humanitarian nightmares in those places, and never before has the United States then made the decision to block those people inside those countries and throw away the key.”
The senator went on to call the ban a “national security disaster”, saying that it advertises to the world that the US views Muslims across the globe as a threat.
“It makes us weaker every single day,” he said.
For her part, Chu said Congress should not authorise a single dollar to fund Trump’s policies that are meant to divide Americans.
She slammed the president for his lack of regards for facts, citing a recent Islamophobic tweet where Trump said without evidence that “prayer rugs” were found at the US-Mexican borders, in order to ramp up fear of supposed Muslims crossing into the US without documentation.
“Truth has no place in Trump’s crusade for fear and division,” Chu said. “But what heartens me is the sentiment of the American people. I will never forget when the first Muslim ban was announced, going down to the airport… and the many many hundreds of people had come down to protest for hours at a time.”
‘I’m very hopeful’
Besides Omar, the two other Muslim members of Congress, Andre Carson and Rashida Tlaib, also condemned the ban on Monday.
Tlaib highlighted the link between the rise in hate crimes and Trump’s announcement of the ban since he was a candidate late in 2015.
“It is an incredible, remarkable time that as our country was banning Muslims, that more Muslims – record numbers – were running for office,” Tlaib said.
Tlaib noted that she and Omar were not elected by predominantly Muslim communities, but rather by fellow Americans who were able to see beyond the candidates’ faith.
“That, to me, gives me so much light and hope to the future,” she said.
Muslim American activists are now relying on politicians to overturn the ban after the US Supreme Court upheld the decree last year.
But with Trump’s Republican Party still in control of the Senate, it may not be a smooth road ahead for the ban’s opponents.
Still, Congresswoman Omar said she is optimistic about the prospect of success.
“I’m very hopeful that we will be able to do something in the House,” she told MEE after the event. “The thing that we can hope for is to have actions taken that get us closer to the end-goal. So if we were able to get something done in the House, then we can try to push for things in the Senate.”
And even if the Senate fails to advance the measure against the ban, Omar said, the effort increases the chances of defeating the ban after the 2020 elections.
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