“It has been a very painful four years,” said Mohamed Ibrahim, of Maine People’s Alliance. “But today we celebrate!”
Maine People’s Alliance hosted “Freedom Together: Citizen, Relief, and Recovery: A Virtual Panel Discussion” on January 27, the fourth anniversary of the now-lifted executive order known commonly as the Muslim Ban. The event included four panelists – South Portland City Councilor Deqa Dhalac, Portland City Councilor Pious Ali, and Greater Portland Iraqi Community Leader Ali Al-Mashekheel. Mohamed Ibrahim of MPA organized the event, and Hawa Ali served as the emcee.
“It has been a very painful four years. The Muslim Ban was shocking, devastating, hurtful,” said Ibrahim. “But today we celebrate the lifting of the ban, a time to move forward, and a time to learn from this experience.”
The panelists shared examples of the negative impact the ban had on their families and their communities. All agreed that the harm extended to people of all ages, immigrants from all backgrounds.
“When the ban was imposed my son was seven. He asked me, ‘Dad – are we going to be deported? Are we going to be sent back home?’ The ban spread fear. Community members came to me, asking me for help. Their loved ones were far away, and because of the ban they couldn’t reunite,” said Al-mshakheel.
Councilor Ali noted, “The U.S. used to be the most welcoming country in the world, but it shut its doors when the then-president signed that executive order in 2017 … the ban had a psychological and emotional impact on Muslims here and around the world. ‘Why does your president hate us?’ everyone kept asking.
“You could see that many kids here were really worried, even though they were born here. The trauma was huge. The policies were racist … I’m from Somalia, and when I was in middle school I learned about the U.S., and said, ‘I want to be there some day.’ Now I’m sad. It’s been a very long four years. People have been calling me every day from all around the world the whole four years asking, ‘what is going on there in the U.S.,” said Dhalac.
The panelists looked forward, as well as back. All agreed the last four years have taken a serious toll on communities, but they are cautiously optimistic about the future. Some of the actions of host communities felt supportive, and the importance of civic engagement was stressed.
“The pushback, when people went to the airports and other places, to demonstrate, that was important,” said Al-mshakheel. “To show that we are all together in this, not only Muslims. That the (then) president was not representative of all Americans.”
Dhalac said, “After four years of Trump, we organized, we mobilized, we didn’t sleep we were working so hard – we were determined to make sure we didn’t see another four years like that.”
“Now there is light at the end of the tunnel. We did all we could. We volunteered, made phone calls, registered voters … and now we have a new president leading our country. Soon we will be a friendly leader in the global community again,” said Councilor Ali. “But we are not out of the woods yet.
“We need to figure out a way to engage our fellow citizens in difficult conversations, with those we do not agree with. At the city council, state legislature, and national level – we need a program to get people to talk to each other all across the country,” Councilor Ali said.
“So make phone calls. Email your congressional representatives. Call them. Ask your friends to do the same thing. We don’t have the power to change immigration policy ourselves, but we can continue to urge our representatives to support the president’s immigration initiatives,” said Councilor Ali.
“Yes, and help other marginalized communities as well. LGBTQ, women – if you help one marginalized community, you help all. So get to know your legislators. Your city councilors. Call them!” said Councilor Dhalac.
“And we need to reach out to our neighbors, talk to them, break bread (post COVID), communicate, break barriers,” said Councilor Dhalac.
“Let’s celebrate the moment,” said Al-mshakheel. “The hope is that the Biden/Harris team will help families reunite. People are eager to see their loved ones again. You remember the son who worried about deportation? Well, the same son – Yusuf – last week wanted to write a thank you message to President Biden, and tell him he feels safe now, and wants all Americans to be united.”
“I really felt this conversation needed to take place,” said Ibrahim. “For the first time the community got a space to share these painful experiences.”
Ibrahim said that the panel discussion hosted by Maine People’s Alliance was just one of many events that took place on the anniversary of the Muslim Ban, a day already remembered in connection with the Holocaust for the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.