His sadder moments, Hassan Ahmed says, come when he’s driving his truck for his job and he sees a couple walking down the sidewalk, holding hands.
“It reminds me of my wife, stuck, 10,000 miles away,” said Ahmed, 61.
But about the maddest he got was last year, when he read how the parents of first lady Melania Trump had been invited to immigrate to America by their daughter, to become U.S. citizens.
“They shut the door on me,” Ahmed said, “and leave it open for themselves? I thought — ‘man, that just isn’t fair. That doesn’t seem like America.’ ”
Oh yes it does. Ahmed, who lives in Buckley, Pierce County, is the living embodiment of the cliché that “elections have consequences.” For him, the last one was life-altering.
“It ruined my life,” he puts it, bluntly.
Remember the travel ban? The airport protests long ago died away, the news crowded out by fresh outrages. But it’s still very much in effect. And it’s still pointlessly splitting families, even those containing our own citizens.
Take Ahmed, who came here as a political refugee from Somalia in the 1980s. He earned his U.S. citizenship in a ceremony at the immigration office in Tukwila in 2008, and now drives a truck delivering medical supplies to area hospitals.
So when he married Hana Mohamed, a Somali citizen, in 2015, he immediately applied to bring her here. The petition was approved in 2016, but the visa hadn’t yet been processed through the embassy in Djibouti when Donald Trump got elected.
Within his first week of taking office, Trump issued the first of his travel bans, following on his campaign pledge for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
The final version effectively barred all travel to the U.S. from five majority-Muslim countries, one of which is Somalia, along with North Korea. It was upheld in a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court last year. Key to that decision was that the president had broad powers to restrict immigration, but also that there would be a way to apply for exceptions.
But being related to a U.S. citizen doesn’t cut it anymore, at least not if you’re Somali. The harsh bottom line came for Ahmed in a breezy email from the U.S. embassy’s consular section in August 2018 — the same month Melania Trump’s parents were granted U.S. citizenship.
“Greetings from the US Embassy in Djibouti, and thank you kindly for your message. Per our records, your visa was refused appropriately pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 9645” — the third and final version of the travel ban.
Another email from the embassy stated that Somalis could only win access to the United States in bizarrely specific circumstances. One was for “a child of a U.S. citizen with leukemia or congenital defect such as Down syndrome that could only be treated/managed in the United States.” Another was “the divorced parent of a U.S. citizen child whose spouse has been institutionalized for psychiatric disorders.”
“As you can see from these examples, the exceptions will be few and far between.”
“People have completely forgotten about the travel ban, but Trump won on it,” says Vicky Dobrin, a Seattle immigration attorney. “He succeeded in banning Muslims, at least from these countries. It’s blanket enough that it doesn’t matter if the reason you’re coming here is to be with your U.S. citizen husband.”
In April 2019, the most recent month that figures are available from the State Department, only 15 Somalis were granted immigration visas to the entire United States. The average was 10 times that in 2016.
The administration argued in court that the ban was solely for security, and not targeting a specific religion. It offered as proof that it would make case-by-case exceptions. But Dobrin says there’s no application for these visa waivers, and even strong cases like Ahmed’s are disappeared into limbo — in his case for 2 1/2 years now, and counting.
“I feel powerless, like I have my hands tied behind my back,” Ahmed told me. “This one guy, Trump, he has me hung, dangling in the air.”
When the Supreme Court upheld the ban, one of the dissenting judges, Sonia Sotomayor, argued that the policy was as poorly designed as it was malevolent. This would become apparent in the months and years ahead, she predicted, not in legal briefs or political debates, but through “the pain and suffering the Proclamation inflicts upon countless families and individuals, many of whom are United States citizens.”
Hassan Ahmed is one U.S. citizen who can attest: She called that one right.