From the Civil Rights Desk

The Civil Rights Department at CAIR-SFBA knew Donald Trump would have a tumultuous first week, but I don’t think anyone anticipated it would be to this level. After nearly a year and half of campaigning on a complete and total shut down of Muslims entering the U.S. As president, at the end of January he signed an executive order aimed at fulfilling at least part of that goal, officially putting anti-Muslim bigotry into policy. Thus, the months of January and February began at the backdrop of the Trump Administration’s grand executive order rollouts. Let’s refer to this as the months of the “Muslim Ban.” The executive order confirmed fears by many that the divisive and bigoted rhetoric America witnessed during the presidential campaign was already leading to devastating policies.

How did this translate in the office? The office phones rang off the hook from panicked and confused American Muslim community members who wanted legal guidance regarding whether the order impacted them. The rushed and hastily written nature of the first “Muslim Ban” created a lot of chaos inside and outside all civil rights and immigration offices nationwide. Our office, in conjunction with Asians Americans Advancing Justice-ALC, spent sleepless nights at the airport trying to perform triage on the ramifications of the poorly written executive order. There were multiple pregnant women who were delayed/detained, and watching their families panic about that was heartbreaking. There was an older couple from one of the impacted countries who were detained for over 30 hours at SFO.

Some of the most frightening complaints our office received were from mixed immigration status families. In most cases, they included legal permanent residents with immediate family members who have immigrant visas. In those cases, we witnessed visa holders prevented from boarding flights and the U.S. citizen family members having to make a choice, “do I get on the plane or do I stay back with my non-citizen family member?” These included the sister of a U.S. citizen stuck abroad, newlyweds, a daughter, and a young child. We spent countless hours working around the clock to provide them guidance and legal support to assist them. When the Temporary Restraining Orders went into effect, we made sure to communicate this to those who were stuck abroad to help them find a way to reunite the family members back together. And after the Washington decision and, more recently, after the Hawaii decision where the judge blocked the administrations revised travel ban, we were successful in doing that.

If you or a loved one is concerned about upcoming travel plans or has significant issues at the airport when traveling, please fill out our Travel Inquiry Intake Form and someone from our Civil Rights Department will assist you.

Saba Maher
Civil Rights Coordinator