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Reflections on the 2017 Travel Ban

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On January 20, 2017, just a few hours after Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States, Naief and Nsreen Ghazoul and two of their children touched down at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport.

It was the final leg of a long and traumatic journey. Having fled the civil war in their native country of Syria, the family had been living in Jordan, where they applied to be resettled through the UN Refugee Agency. After years of waiting, they had finally been selected to be part of the very small percentage of refugees who ever get resettled in the United States.

During their first week in Charlottesville, the Ghazoul family began the adjustment to their new life. They moved into their apartment, learned how to use the city transit system and where to go grocery shopping, and anxiously awaited the arrival of their daughter and son-in-law, Manyah and Ali, who were scheduled to be resettled with the IRC in Charlottesville the following week.

Yet seven days after the inauguration, and the arrival of the Ghazoul family, President Trump signed Executive Order 13769, which established a travel ban on individuals from seven different countries and suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions program for 120 days. While this announcement sent shock waves through the country and the world, it had a deeply personal effect on the Ghazoul family—Syrians were now indefinitely banned from entering the United States, and that meant that Manyah, Ali, and their infant son would no longer be able to join their family in Charlottesville. 

Americans protest the Travel Ban.

Photo: IRC

Naief and Nsreen were utterly distraught at this news. "I was considering leaving the U.S. and going back to Jordan so that I could be with my other daughter," Naief remembers. Reflecting back on the traumatic events of that week, IRC Caseworker Farah Ibrahim recalled telling the family to keep hoping for a good outcome, but she wasn't so sure that it would come to pass. "I didn't have the heart to tell them that [their family members] might not come."

Hearing this news back in Jordan, Manyah and Ali were equally shocked and distressed. They had just sold all of their remaining belongings and were staying with friends for the last few nights before their departure, yet now it seemed that it might all have been for nothing. For the first few days, Ali remembered, he gave up all hope of ever being able to come to the United States. However, after seeing the immense backlash towards the ban within the United States and across the globe, things started looking brighter. Ali took this public reaction as an indication that the ban could not last, and luckily, he was right. On February 3, 2017, United States District Judge James Robart issued a temporary restraining order on the original executive order, thereby lifting the travel ban for a period of time. Three days later, on February 6, 2017, Manyah, Ali, and their son Shahed arrived at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport, where they were greeted by their family members and IRC staff. "It was beyond imagination, my happiness and excitement," Ali recalled.

It's been one year since the two families were resettled. Both Naief and Ali are working at the Charlottesville Omni Hotel, and the two families live just a few doors away from each other in the same apartment complex. While they all expressed their happiness to have finally made it to the United States, there is a sense that something is missing, for Naief and Nsreen's other daughter is still back in Jordan with her husband. The family hopes that one day, she too will be able to join them here in Charlottesville, but Naief says he is skeptical that will happen any time soon. The administration's ban on Syrians entering the country is still in effect, and it's difficult to predict what will happen with this policy moving forward.