Trump executive order sows fear among refugees in Ariz.
PHOENIX — Ibado Mahmud came to the United States as a refugee in 1993 after fleeing the civil war in her native Somalia and spending more than two years living in a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya.
She is one of 7,193 Somali refugees resettled in Arizona since 1992, the first year Somali refugees arrived in Arizona.
But Mahmud worries that other refugees will not get the same chance because of President Trump’s decision Friday to temporarily freeze the arrival of all refugees and indefinitely halt the arrival of refugees from Syria.
“A lot of people are grateful to be here, to be part of this country. We appreciate what the United States did for us,” the 56-year-old Phoenix resident said. “We are hoping they will do many other great things to people who are hurting, that people who are dying for no reason, to people who don’t have a life.”
In signing the directive, Trump said the suspension of refugees is intended to “keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America.”
“We don’t want them here,” Trump said at a swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon for his new secretary of Defense, James Mattis. “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”
Trump’s order also indefinitely halts the arrival of all refugees from Syria to the U.S. until the president is convinced refugees from that country can be adequately vetted.
Trump’s executive order calls for a minimum 120-day suspension of all refugees into the country until the vetting process for admitting refugees is tightened. In addition, the order does not allow legal immigration to the U.S. for 60 days from seven countries with close ties to terrorist organizations, according to USA TODAY. Three of the countries — Iran, Sudan and Syria — comprise the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The State Department has designated the four others — Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — as “terrorist safe havens.”
The order also reduces the overall number of refugees that will be allowed into the U.S. in fiscal year to 50,000. That is less than half of 110,000 number set by former President Obama before he left office.
Mahmud said she has felt welcome in the U.S. but she worries Trump’s executive orders could lead to discrimination against Muslims like her.
“What I am scared of is that he is going to divide us,” she said.
Trumps’s executive orders, part of a series of immigration-related actions the president took this week, fulfills Trump’s campaign pledge to implement “extreme vetting” of refugees.
His order reverses Obama’s position. Over the objections of almost two-dozen Republican governors, including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Obama raised the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. from 70,000 in fiscal year 2015 to 85,000 in fiscal year 2016 and to 110,000 in fiscal year 2017.
The U.S. also exceeded Obama’s goal of welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees last year by more than 2,500 to help address the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, caused by Syrian civil war, which has displaced millions of people.
In November 2015, in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, Ducey called for the federal government to stop sending all refugees to Arizona out of fear that terrorists could try to slip into the country pretending to be refugees.
Over Ducey’s objections, refugees from Syria and elsewhere continued to arrive in Arizona.
During fiscal year 2016, which ended Sept. 30, Arizona took in at least 800 refugees from Syria, more than all but three states: California, Michigan and Texas.
In calendar year 2016, Arizona received 715 refugees from Syria, compared with 138 the year before, according to the state Refugee Resettlement Program.
Syrian refugees made up nearly 15% of the 4,833 refugees that arrived in Arizona last year, according to the program.
So far in 2017, Arizona has received 946 refugees, including 115 Syrians.
Since 1980, Arizona has received 80,822 refugees, about 2.3% of the 3.4 million refugees resettled in the U.S. over that period, according to data from the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program.
Trump’s executive order was quickly denounced by refugee advocates, who say it harms vulnerable families and goes against this country’s long history of protecting refugees fleeing persecution and war.
“It’s completely out of line with core American values,” said Donna Magnuson, executive director of the Phoenix office of the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement organization. “The refugees that we see … are fleeing the violent extremism that our country is actually fighting to defend and are in desperate need of safe haven by countries such as the U.S. This slams the door on innocent lives and puts them at risk and to be honest does nothing to make us safer.”
Since coming to the U.S. in 1993, Mahmud has rebuilt her life in Arizona. She raised seven children.
She owns her own house and for the past 17 years she has worked at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, alongside refugees from Iraq, Eritrea, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia and many other countries.
She recalled fleeing Somalia for her life with her husband and two young daughters in December 1990 and then driving in a car to Kenya with a caravan of nearly 50 other refugees.
“Seeing people dying, seeing people raped,” Mahmud said she saw “a lot of horrible things. It’s hard talking about it.”
In Kenya, she recalled sleeping at night in a damp tent with her two daughters while lions roamed outside nearby.
“You heard the lions roaring every night,” she said. “I used to wrap me and my two girls in long clothes so if the lion came, he would have to eat all three of us.”