Americans have had plenty of fresh hell to keep them occupied in the past couple months — hurricanes battering the United States, a health care repeal effort that never truly dies, escalating tensions with North Korea, tax cuts for the rich, and so on.
Buried in a seemingly endless list of alarms is another revised travel ban on select countries that is set to indefinitely take effect on Oct. 18. Nationals of Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia and North Korea have specially tailored restrictions, but tourists, families of American residents, and those seeking medical visas are overwhelmingly banned.
It took the White House a few high-profile tries, but officials have managed to get official recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the agencies reviewed travel security procedures of dozens of countries to justify these eight being on the final list.
Those who advocate for immigrants say adding Venezuela and North Korea to the list doesn’t hide it anti-Muslim roots. The original ban targeted seven Muslim-majority countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia — which courts immediately blocked using statements from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, and from surrogates, that called for a total prohibition against Muslims entering the United States.
“Adding these two countries is a way to veil the Islamophobic tendencies of this ban,” says Yusra Oweis, youth coordinator at Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which has received dozens of frantic calls from uncertain families. “Everyone’s worried this is going to get stronger and stronger.”
In the new ban, nationals of Chad, Yemen, Libya, Syria and North Korea with any type of visas are barred from entry. Iranian citizens without student or visitor visas are also not allowed.
Somali immigrants won’t be let in at all, while those applying for business or tourist visas will have additional screening measures. Venezuelan government officials and their families can’t enter the United States, while the rest of its citizens will also have more intense screening measures.
A crowd of ban opponents gathered outside City Hall on Oct. 9 for a vigil, and to talk about why this affects everyone — not just people with attachments to those countries. While Libyan-American and UCSF student Anas Tresh is not subjected to the ban himself, he stood in for his relatives who would not be allowed to simply visit loved ones.
“Regardless if it’s Libya or any country in the world, it’s ridiculous to say that these people are a threat, these people are not in tune to what our ideology is as Americans,” Tresh tells SF Weekly. “I wouldn’t even argue that this makes white Americans safer, but indirectly it puts people who look different in harm’s way.”
Speakers at the vigil repeatedly made the point that this doesn’t just affect those targeted in the ban, but that it creates a hostile and distrustful environment for all. For Tresh, that means being seen as a threat here and as part of a hateful country when abroad.
The Supreme Court was set to hear oral arguments against the ban on Oct. 10, but canceled them until both sides file briefs on the new version. In the meantime, 45,000 will soon be the new cap for refugees — significantly less than the Obama administration’s goal to resettle 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017.
With several ongoing stories to keep track of, the updated travel ban seems to have trouble breaking through to the front pages like it did in January, when people flooded San Francisco International Airport in protest. Though Monday’s vigil had a bit of a crowd, one can imagine it would have been packed if it had happened just a few months ago.
“When you overwhelm them with all of this, it’s so hard to focus on all the issues that are going on right now,” Tresh says. “If we allow this to happen, what is the next step?”