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How Trump’s Travel Ban Has Left One Family Divided

Mustafa and Murtadha Mousa planned to join their parents and sisters in Ohio after they finished school in the Ukraine. Now they’re unsure when—or if—that will happen.
Photo showing a family of four in front of a tree lit for Christmas

The Mousa family. Mina appears on the right.

President Donald Trump’s travel and refugee ban affected all sorts of people: technology workers and college kids; folks with visiting international relatives; and, for a while, green-card holders — at least, until the Trump administration clarified two days later that they would be allowed in the country.

On Monday, refugees who had completed their years-long application processes to live in the United States were supposed to begin arriving, says Jen Smyers, a director of policy for Church World Service, a non-profit that works with the government to resettle refugees. Now, under Trump’s ban, refugees are forbidden from entering the U.S. for four months. It’s unclear what the administration will do about those fleeing war and persecution after that.

The ban has put many refugee families in a peculiar limbo, with some members already settled in America and others seemingly stuck abroad. “A lot of the cases that are being canceled right now are family reunification cases,” Smyers says. Pacific Standard spoke with a woman from one such family, Mina Mousa, a 22-year-old living inColumbus, Ohio.

Mina moved to the U.S. from Iraq with her parents and her younger sister. All four of them are now green-card holders, or permanent residents. But Mina also has two older brothers, both of whom are Iraqi nationals and going to school in Ukraine (one for medicine and the other for engineering).

The brothers had originally planned to join their parents and sisters in the U.S. after they graduated. After Trump’s executive order, that plan is less of a sure thing. One brother, Mustafa, was set to visit this week. Below, our conversation with Mina.

When did your family move to the U.S.? Where did you come from?

December 12th, 2012 — that’s when we entered the U.S. We were all born in Iraq. We left my country in 2006, but first we went to Egypt, and then we went to Jordan.

We left Iraq because terrorists bombed my dad’s store and they almost kidnapped my oldest brother, Mustafa, multiple times. So we were afraid for our lives. It was too scary to go to school. Terrorists were kidnapping people for money, or not for money: They would just kill them and that’s it.

Why did you decide to leave Jordan?

Jordan was fine, but we wanted to come here for a better education, a better life. You feel more safe here. It’s equal. How do I say it? What we thought about America was that there’s no racism or anything, whatever your religion is, but everything is changed now. America is changing.

Why didn’t your brothers get green cards when the rest of your family did?

When we first applied, it was all six of us, as a family. But after my brothers left to the Ukraine, the International Organization for Migration took them from our file. They said: “When you get to the U.S., it will be easy for you guys to get them green cards. So just let them finish their school and when you get to the U.S., apply for them.” Angie [Angela Plummer, executive director of Community Refugee and Immigration Services in Columbus] did apply for both of them after we got our green cards.

Photo showing two young men in front of a Christmas light display

Murtadha (left) and Mustafa Mousa.

 What’s happening now with Mustafa?

That’s the biggest problem right now because he was supposed to come on Thursday. He talked to the U.S. embassy over in Ukraine and they told him that the airline would not let him on the plane. He has a travel document. He doesn’t have a green card, but he did apply for one. He has an appointment for fingerprints on Friday.

What about your other brother, Murtadha?

He already graduated from engineering school. He was just waiting for his security check and, after that, he will be ready to come here. So that’s going to be delayed and he has already been waiting for that almost a year.

How did your family feel after hearing about the travel ban order?

It was a huge shock for all of us. When I heard about it, I was like: “Oh my gosh, Mustafa is coming Thursday. Now he’s not going to be able to come. What am I going to do?” So I contacted Angie and she was really helpful. She told me to come and talk to these television channels. She just threw me in there and I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” My parents don’t really speak good English, so I had to be the person who speaks for my family. I’m the person trying to get in touch with Angie, watching the news, keeping track of what’s going on. But I can’t force anything to happen.

Do you go to school or work? Your family situation sounds like it might be distracting.

I am in school at the Ohio State University. I work part time. I would like to apply to dental school by next year. That’s my goal.

It really did distract me from school. I just got my grade back from physiology class and I kinda got a D. I never got a D in my classes before. Also, now I’m scared at school because of what’s going on. What if they know I’m Muslim? Are they going to hurt me now? They probably think this is not my country anymore. Those are a lot of the thoughts in my head. I can’t really clear my head and study.

Didn’t you say your dad is a mechanic? That’s a big jump, for your dad to be a mechanic and for you to be thinking about dental school, and for your brothers to be studying medicine and engineering.

Right, it is a huge jump. My mom really worked hard on us to work hard in school, get good grades, and be good. She always told us education is really important.

How did you end up taking the lead for your family in all of this?

I guess I didn’t choose? I just had to be? But even if I had a choice, I would choose to be there for them because it’s my family and I would never want to lose them, or not be able to see my brothers again, or not have them be able to come here.

This interview was arranged through Angela Plummer and Church World Service, the relief, development, and refugee assistance arm of the National Council of the Churches of Christ. It has been edited for length and clarity.