In Nashville, Kurds Express Fears About Trump's Immigration Ban
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
People are still sorting out what the impact of President Trump's executive order on foreign travel will be. Part of the confusion surrounds how freely green card holders can travel, and that has members of Nashville's Kurdish community in a panic. WPLN's Emily Siner reports.
EMILY SINER, BYLINE: The Azadi International Market in South Nashville is busy. The butcher is chopping halal meat almost nonstop. At the cash register, owner Kamal Hasan is working through a long line of customers. Hasan came to the U.S. in 1996 from the Kurdish region of Iraq. He was part of a wave of ethnic Kurds fleeing persecution under Saddam Hussein.
Many refugees were resettled in Nashville. Some, like Hasan, started elsewhere, but moved here once they realized there was a growing community. It's become the largest Kurdish population in the country, according to community leaders. Like many people here, Hasan makes the trek back to Iraq every few years to see family.
KAMAL HASAN: All my brothers, sisters - many of them - they're still back there, yeah?
SINER: And that is why some Kurdish immigrants, even those who are permanent residents of the U.S., are so worried. Drost Kokoye with a Muslim advocacy group called American Center for Outreach is tracking cases of people with green cards who are unable to return to the U.S. In one instance, she says, a Nashville resident was in Iraq visiting family.
DROST KOKOYE: And then he went to the airport in Erbil to come back to Nashville - to come back to the United States - and he was denied. They wouldn't take his green card, and so now he's stuck in Erbil.
ANDREW FREE: As the situation develops, our advice is changing, which makes it very difficult for people to plan and order their lives.
SINER: Andrew Free is a Nashville immigration lawyer who was at a rally and is working with some permanent residents having trouble getting back. The Department of Homeland Security says green card holders should be admitted into the U.S. on a case-by-case basis, as the Trump administration says it's trying to ensure public safety. With all the confusion, Free is advising people to avoid flying through certain airports. And he says even for naturalized U.S. citizens, he can't guarantee they'll be able to travel freely.
FREE: If you're from one of the seven countries, you really need to make sure that you have thought about what you're going to do if you're not able to get back. It's not something I thought I'd ever have to say.
SINER: This uncertainty for a green card holders and citizens alike has caused anxiety, says community organizer Kasar Abdulla. She says neighbors have been calling her...
KASAR ABDULLA: ...Saying, well, Kasar, I'm supposed to travel next week to Kurdistan. What does this mean? And then - or my family - I'm expecting these families to come. What do I do?
SINER: Abdulla is a U.S. citizen who fled Iraq in the late '80s. She points out that Iraqi Kurds allied with the U.S. against Saddam Hussein back then and against ISIS now.
ABDULLA: We thought America was our friend. We thought, you know, we are American. And, you know, it's just, like, the sense of - so does this naturalization paper - is it now fake? Does it really mean something?
SINER: Ultimately, the travel ban may be less of a burden to Nashville's Kurdish community than people currently fear because so many are permanent residents. But Abdulla says even so, the executive order sends a larger, more troubling message - that refugees like her are unwelcome in America. For NPR News, I'm Emily Siner in Nashville.
POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly say Drost Kokoye is with the American Center for Outreach. In fact, she works with the American Muslim Advisory Council.
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Correction Feb. 2, 2017
In this story, we incorrectly say Drost Kokoye is with the American Center for Outreach. In fact, she works with the American Muslim Advisory Council.