Niraj Warikoo , Detroit Free Press
(Photo: Salwan Georges, Detroit Free Press)
The revamped executive order President Donald Trump signed on Monday drew mixed reaction in metro Detroit’s Middle Eastern communities, with some Iraqi-Americans praising it while others saying it continues to discriminate against immigrants from six Muslim-majority nations.
Trump’s new order is aimed at travelers from Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Libya, and Sudan, but it excludes Iraq, which was on the original order signed last month, which sparked protests and lawsuits, including one filed in Detroit by the Arab American Civil Rights League.
The U.S. has the “right to control who enters our country and keep out those who would do us harm,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a live-streamed press conference announcing the new order. The orders “provide a needed pause so we can carefully review how we scrutinize people.”
The new document bans all visitors from the six nations for 90 days and halts taking in all refugees for 120 days. It also slashes the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. for fiscal year 2017 to 50,000. Last year, the U.S. took in about 85,000, with Michigan taking in one of the highest number of Syrian refugees. As president, Barack Obama had said last year he wanted to increase the number of refugees in fiscal year 2017 to 110,000.
The decision to remove Iraq was praised by Iraqi-American Christian leaders in metro Detroit who worried the initial order in January would prevent many Iraqis from coming to the U.S. Iraqis make up the largest group among Middle Eastern immigrants in Michigan, which has the highest percentage of residents with roots in the Arab world among states in the U.S.
“We are very much happy” with the new order, said Joseph Kassab, founder and CEO of the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute in West Bloomfield. “This is very welcoming news, especially for those from the minority communities in Iraq who are not terrorists. They are victims of terrorists.”
Kassab said he supporters the order because “we have a right to know who’s entering our country.” Kassab said he also supports the order “because it’s time-limited” and opens the door for later admitting people after proper security checks.
“There are good people” from the six countries, “but extreme vetting is very important because we don’t know who is disguising the refugees and who is not,” Kassab said. “I think it is wise for everybody to be vetted. If he’s a good person, it doesn’t matter where he is coming from as long as he passes extreme vetting.”
Other Arab-American leaders criticized the new order, saying it’s still biased despite some changes, such as excluding permanent residents from the travel ban.
“You’re still discriminating, still violating the First Amendment,” said Nabih Ayad, a Detroit attorney who is founder of the Arab American Civil Rights League. “This new order is not going to cure the unconstitutional defects in the original order.”
Ayad will continue with a lawsuit filed against the original order last month, amending its complaint to cite the revamped order.
At the press conference, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the new order “will bolster the security of the United State and her allies.”
Ayad disagreed, saying the order “doesn’t make the nation any stronger. You’re highlighting a certain class of people and marginalizing a group of people, Muslims and Arabs.”
The order makes it easier for groups like ISIS to recruit, Ayad said, by making it easier to argue that the U.S. is anti-Muslim.
“You’re making it so much easier for terrorist organizations to recruit new members,” Ayad said. “They’re being the PR machine for the terrorists by making such ridiculous orders.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), whose district includes a sizable Arab-American community, said in a statement: “Today’s executive order is simply an attempt to repackage the administration’s harmful and unconstitutional ban on Muslims and refugees. … this is the same ban that targets individuals based on their region and flies in the face of our Constitution.”
Dingell said “this ban endangers our national security and dishonors our Constitution and everything our nation stands for. This is not the America I was raised to believe in.”
Lena Masri, an attorney from Michigan who is national litigation director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the order “appears to be merely a retooled order aimed at the same long-stated goal of banning Muslims from entering the United States.”
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said the new order is “more of the same. … Nothing has really changed.”
“They have gutted the refugee program … and they are still banning individuals from our shores based on their national origin and faith.”
Martin Manna, an Iraqi-American Christian advocate who is president of the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights, said “while Iraq has been removed from the list, we are deeply concerned about members of our community being deported to Iraq. Because of their religion, this may become a death sentence.”
Manna added that we “do not support any executive orders that target particular racial, ethnic or religious groups. We have long advocated for a fair and just immigration policy for all new Americans.”
Manna hopes that more Christians and other religious minorities from Iraq can be allowed to enter the U.S.
“Under the Obama administration, there was a huge disparity in the number of Middle-Eastern Christians being allowed to migrate to the United States,” Manna said. “We are hopeful that future policies will help prioritize victims of persecution and genocide, which has historically been the case in this Country.
“Like many others, we are very concerned about the impact this executive order will have on many families in this area.”
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security John Kelly defended the order at the press conference, referencing the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Today’s executive order will make America more secure,” Kelly said.
Secretary Kelly also said that his department would “enforce (the order) humanely … and with professionalism.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo