More than 21,000 Washington residents were born in one of the seven countries — Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen — affected by President Trump’s temporary travel ban.
President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning entry to the United States by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries sparked chaos at many airports this weekend, including Sea-Tac. For local families traveling from banned countries, it was a harrowing experience.
But that sense of anxiety was not only confined to the travelers caught up in the unfolding drama. It also was felt in the communities of the more than 21,000 Washingtonians who are immigrants or refugees from the seven banned countries: Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen.
“We are fearful,” said Mehdi Nakhjiri, of Kirkland, who was born in Iran. He has lived in the U.S. since 1973, and is a dual citizen.
“We are not used to this language,” he said of some statements on Muslims by the current administration. “This new narrative is very scary.”
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Nakhjiri, a structural engineer for Boeing, is one of more than 7,000 state residents who were born in Iran. Of the seven banned countries, only Somalia has a larger representation in the state, at about 7,800 people.
There are also about 3,500 living in Washington who are natives of Iraq. From each of the other four banned countries, there are less than 1,000 in the state.
All together, 70 percent of the state residents born in the banned countries live in King County.
The executive order bars entry to the U.S. for 90 days by visitors from the seven designated countries. The order indefinitely blocked refugees from Syria from entering the U.S., while refugees from elsewhere in the world are also blocked for 120 days.
The restrictions do not apply to green-card holders or legal permanent residents from the countries covered by the executive order.
Those with any travel plans are facing uncertainty.
Nakhjiri thinks he may be directly affected by political fallout from the ban. He has an upcoming trip to Iran planned, but says that the government there now is considering retaliatory measures in response to Trump’s executive order.
“They are talking about banning citizens of the United States to travel to Iran. It’s tit-for-tat,” he said. “And who do you talk to? The governments aren’t responding to each other.”
He isn’t sure how that might affect a dual citizen of the United States and Iran, such as himself.
Nakhjiri also thinks it’s likely that his brother, an orthopedic surgeon who lives in Sweden, will have to cancel a planned trip to a conference in the United States.
“He is scheduled to give a talk here in March,” he said. “There are talks about requiring European citizens with origin from one of those seven countries that are banned to require visa to come to the United States.”
Nakhjiri is also concerned about possible economic repercussions from Trump’s executive order for Boeing, where he works. The company has a several billion-dollar jet deal with Iran Air, which now looks doubtful.
Trump says his executive order is an anti-terrorism measure intended to keep America safe. He blames the media for reporting it as a Muslim ban.
“In my judgment, this is religious persecution, pure and simple,” he said. “It contradicts the core of American values.”