Hifa Habbaba, 67, left Fresno in November to visit her husband in their native Syria. Now Habbaba, a legal United States resident, worries she won’t be allowed back to the city she has called home for the past year.
Habbaba is one of many people with ties to the central San Joaquin Valley who have been affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order that affects immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. The order bars a wide variety of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. It also bans all refugees for 120 days and Syrian refugees indefinitely.
Those affected include visitors, students, temporary workers, people who are to engaged to U.S. citizens and new immigrants. Legal permanent residents, or green card holders, and those with special immigrant visas (such as military interpreters) are to be assessed upon arrival in the U.S. on a case-by-case basis.
The Washington Post reported that about 90,000 people are affected by the order, according to State Department statistics.
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Habbaba fled the civil war in Syria and joined her son, a heart surgeon in Fresno. Her brother Said (Sa-EED) Habbaba, 66, who also lives in Fresno, recounted her story for The Bee.
Hifa Habbaba’s husband was denied a visa to join his family in the U.S. He is 75 and suffers from arthritis, so she decided to visit him. Said Habbaba told her it wasn’t safe for her to return to Syria, but given that her husband was alone, she felt it was the only solution.
Said Habbaba, who spoke to his sister Monday night, explained she would rather stay in Fresno, but wants to be near her husband. He said she told him “I have bad luck” when she heard about the order.
Hifa Habbaba and her husband now plan to apply for visas to Saudi Arabia, where another of their sons is a dentist.
Said Habbaba is fearful for his sister. He said his family chose to seek a new life in the U.S. because they believed in its freedom, peace and fair treatment of immigrants. He is no longer convinced that’s true.
Even so, he said: “I told her, ‘Do not lose hope.’ You must have a good belief in God. Allah will open other doors.”
Said Habbaba also is afraid for himself. He came to Fresno with his wife and daughter four years ago to seek asylum. Their applications still are pending.
He didn’t expect Trump to react so harshly to immigrants. He said what is most painful is the inability to plan for the future. It’s daunting to think about starting over in a new place where he would have to learn a new language and get accustomed to a new culture. He also worries that Trump’s rhetoric will lead to more discrimination and violence.
“I came here because of war,” he said. “If (there was) no war in my country, I would stay there.”
Families torn apart
Other Fresans are struggling to hang on to hope after learning about the order. Wasan Abu-Baker, a local advocate for the refugee community, said three women from Yemen who are seeking asylum in Fresno are now concerned about the impending fate of their applications.
And she said a Syrian man, who arrived in Fresno in August on a travel visa and was seeking asylum, returned to Saudi Arabia, where he had originally fled to from Syria. The man hadn’t heard from immigration officials and didn’t want to jeopardize his case by overstaying his visa. Now he doubts he will be allowed back.
Another man, whose wife and children live in Fresno, canceled his planned visit next month. The man has been working in Saudi Arabia while the rest of his family seeks asylum.
Abu-Baker said Syrians who came in as refugees are now worried that they will lose their government assistance. Nineteen Syrian refugee families have moved to Fresno since summer; the latest arrived three weeks ago. One refugee woman also told Abu-Baker that her mother is sick and asked for help securing a humanitarian visa, which are granted for temporary emergencies. That’s no longer possible.
Fresno State affected
Fresno State has 15 students who are immigrants from the seven affected countries, and more whose families could be affected. The order could impact further admissions of international students.
Arezoo Sadrinezhad, a professor of civil and geomatics engineering, is from Iran and had to cancel conferences and other travel because of the order. She said the ban is unfair, noting that her family won’t be able to attend his wedding in August.
Stacy Fahrenthold, who teaches Middle East and migration studies, said she hasn’t yet heard any personal stories from her students being affected by the order. She said the executive order created a sense of uncertainty among students who already are vulnerable.
“This executive order means they can no longer go home on breaks to visit family (or) their family can no longer visit them – very basic things people take for granted,” she said.
University officials are urging those students not to leave the U.S.
Fahrenthold said some of her students have asked what they can do in response. She provided resources for counseling, passport and legal services and made it clear that she will fight for their safety and security.
“We have more students that are affected by these immigration policies than the typical campus,” she said. “You can actually feel there’s a little bit of a palpable sense of uncertainty.”