Rana Al-Shaikli, an Iraqi refugee who made it to Albuquerque last year after seven years of trying to get a visa, said through an interpreter that she’s been seeing a therapist for stress, as she and her two children are separated from her husband, who is in Turkey and can’t get an immigration interview.
Hussein, an Iraqi in America on a work visa, is so afraid he’ll be stopped at a checkpoint while driving to Las Cruces that he’s put his pursuit of a doctoral degree at New Mexico State University on hold.
Others said they were too scared to visit their homeland because they fear they won’t be able to return. Students said they are struggling to focus on their studies.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., hosted a meeting on Saturday afternoon with immigrants and refugees who have been affected by or are scared of an executive order by President Donald Trump that temporarily banned immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. The meeting was held at Lutheran Family Services in Albuquerque and included officials from agencies that advocate for the affected population.
“It has fundamentally made this country less secure. The administration doesn’t seem to understand who our friends and allies are and who our enemies are in the region,” Heinrich said of the ban at the meeting. “We have just painted with a broad brush so many of our allies that we need to be effective in addressing the security challenges that we have. We have to do some soul-searching in this country about what we stand for.”
Trump issued an executive order in January that banned certain travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. He said he wanted to stop potential attackers from getting into the country. A federal court has halted the ban, but Trump said last week that he would issue a replacement version.
The proposed ban has affected the lives of many immigrants who live in Albuquerque and are worried about their future and the chances of being reunited with family members who still live in the targeted countries.
Linda Melville, the associate director for International Student and Scholar Services at the University of New Mexico, said there are more than 100 UNM students from the affected countries. At least two students have been held overseas and many of those UNM students have concerns about their families who are still abroad, she said.
“I have a commencement coming up and no one from my family can be here,” said Elmira, a 32-year-old student from Tehran, Iran, who has a Ph.D. in engineering and is studying for another one in economics.
She said the Trump presidency has left her with an uncertain future. As a Muslim woman who doesn’t follow customs such as wearing a hijab, she said returning to the Middle East would put her at a disadvantage and she likely couldn’t get a job in academia.
“My ideologies are not what the government wants of a Muslim,” she said. “Inside Iran we are not complying with Muslim rules. And outside Iran what we are is ‘from a Muslim country.'”
Hussein came to America on a student visa in 2010 and is now here on a worker’s visa. He’s the only member of his family in America. The rest are scattered throughout the Middle East.
He said two relatives of his died last week but he won’t travel back to Iraq for their funerals.
“The only problem is we are afraid to fly,” he said. “I cannot do anything. I cannot go back. The only thing you can do is a phone call.”
Heinrich told the group he was preparing for a long fight against Trump’s policies.
“I think this is just the beginning of a long couple of years,” he said.