An Arab community leader in Maine decried the president’s travel ban as a punishment for people who have done nothing wrong, and said the move disrespects America’s history as a nation built by immigrants and refugees.
Zoe Sahloul was born in Lebanon and came to Maine nearly two decades ago. She now serves as the executive director of the New England Arab American Organization, with offices in Westbrook and Portland.
“I believe in the goodness of people,” she said. “Unfortunately with these regulations, a lot of people are being hurt, a lot of people who are innocent and who have had nothing to do with terrorists. People are desperate to leave [war-torn countries], and they’re desperate to have any help they can get to save their kids and save their families.
“I’ve been in Maine for 20 years, and even with that, I’ve been so stressed out and so afraid,” Sahloul continued. “When we talk about immigrants, who is not a product of immigrants in the United States, whether you’re third or fourth generation?”
Trump’s travel ban will block travel to the U.S. from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — four of which are Arab nations, and all of which are predominantly Muslim — for at least 90 days. The president’s measure will also prevent refugees from any country from entering the U.S. for at least 120 days.
In a Supreme Court ruling announced Monday, the nation’s highest court agreed Trump’s plans could go into effect, but with some exceptions, at least while the larger case over the ban’s constitutionality plays out. The court decided that the administration could not block those who can prove an existing relationship with family already in the U.S., among other things.
But even those exceptions did not ease the concerns of immigrant leaders in Maine, who told the Bangor Daily News this week the ruling gives Trump’s agents wide discretion on what to accept as proof of a family relationship.
Maine has large Somalian and Sudanese populations.
“This ruling now empowers customs agencies and enforcement agents to pick and choose what [documentation] they’ll require, and my fear is that they’ll discriminate based on religion,” said Mahmoud Hassan, president of the Portland-based Somali Community Center of Maine, after the Supreme Court decision was announced Monday.
Bloomberg News reported late Wednesday night that Trump’s travel ban was expected to be implemented starting at 8 p.m. Thursday, despite concerns about how customs agents will enforce it.
The Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in the case over the larger question of the travel ban’s constitutionality this fall.