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Federal Travel Ban Spreads Fear for Refugees And Immigrants In Florida

Sarah Mueller

Fear has only grown in the week since President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning entry into the U.S. for refugees and travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries. Despite the temporary stay by a federal judge in Seattle, Washington, other refugees and legal residents said they're worried they will be the next to lose their chance at the American Dream.

Hiba Rahim, with the Center on American-Islamic Relations Florida, said Syrian refugee families in Panama City and across the state are wondering if they’ll become targets of oppression again.

“They’re concerned about how this might affect them, especially if things progress the way they are moving right now," she said. "But, we are trying to acquiesce their concerns and just let them know that they have a strong support group behind them and that we will continue to support they’re right to be here no matter what.”

CAIR Florida has filed a lawsuit over the ban in Virginia and there are other lawsuits filed. Immigration fights are also extending down to the state level as some Florida Republican lawmakers want the state to pull out of the federal refugee resettlement program altogether. One day before the federal ban was enacted, a Florida House Committee heard from Mark Krickorian. He's executive director of the Center for Immigrant Studies, an anti-immigration think tank. He said the U.S. should leave refugees in camps in other countries.

“I would submit it’s morally indefensible to resettle refugees in the West if the alternative is that we could be spending that money protecting 12 times more people where they have found refuge in, say Turkey or Lebanon now," he said.

Stacy Martin of Lutheran Services Florida said the camps are dangerous for women and children, the very people who are prioritized to be resettled in the U.S.

“In some camps, refugees are not allowed to go out beyond the confines of the camps itself and so you can imagine being confined in fences," she said. "For example, if you’re fleeing a war, you could end up in a camp where warlords are as well.”

Martin also said the resettlement agency has never had a problem with anyone they have worked with in 34 years - refugees or immigrants.

An Iranian student from Florida State University student, who doesn't want to give his name for fear of being deported, said his parents had bought plane tickets to Dubai to get visas so they could visit him in Tallahassee. Now… the promise of a family reunion is gone.

“Both my parents had visa appointment this month and right now they received an email they cannot go anymore,” he said. “They paid for the flight, they paid for hotel because there is no U-S Embassy in Iran. So, there is a lot of hardship to go to Dubai to get the visa. They waited for two years to do that and now they cannot do it.”

Despite the Trump Administration’s claim that just slightly more than 100 people were affected, the Washington Post reported more than 100,000 visas had been revoked for refugees and immigrants. The State Department later revised the number to around 60,000. More than 900 people couldn’t board flights after the executive orders were issued.

Another FSU Iranian student is stuck after he flew home before the ban was issued to go to his father’s funeral. Tallahassee resident Bisma Nasar and her family are all naturalized citizens, originally from Pakistan. She said her parents decided not to travel to Pakistan because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to come home. The ban’s not targeting citizens right now, but Nasar worries what the future will bring.

“This is supposed to be the land of the free, this is what we know. I mean, what does it say on the Statute of Liberty," she said. "It just seems so against everything we know and we stand for.”

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.