Muslims feel embraced by border community, even in times of Trump


El Paso, TX – The recent temporary ban on seven Muslim-majority countries signed by President Trump came with a surprising instantaneous outpour of support towards Muslims and refugees across the U.S., and on the border.

About 3,000 to 4,000 Muslims live in the Sun City, said Omar Hernandez, Public Affairs Director at the Islamic Center of El Paso located in the West side. Despite a rise in anti Muslim sentiment in some part of the country, several El Paso Muslims say they continue to feel a warm embrace from El Paso residents.

“I have fallen in love with El Paso because of its people,” said Zahra Taki, 31, a student at El Paso Community College. In 1987, Taki was two years old when she and her parents emigrated from Kuwait. Her father is of Iraqi descent and her mother is of Egyptian background.

Zahra Taki.jpg

Zahra Taki

Taki, who studies History and Religious Studies at EPCC, grew up in Colorado but says she returned to Kuwait on occasion to visit relatives and stayed for seven years because of a job. Two years ago, she moved with her family to El Paso.

A few years ago, she created the organization “Muslims of El Paso and Friends.” Recently, the group organized a protest at the El Paso International Airport following Trump’s executive order.

On Friday, January 27, President Trump signed an executive order that banned people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and suspended the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days. He also indefinitely suspended the admittance of refugees from Syria.

“Within a span of an hour we got 84 people and messages to our Facebook page that were like, ‘we are with you; we can’t be there at the protest but we are with you; we stand with you; whatever you guys need we are here,’” Taki said.

During his campaign for president, Trump spoke several times in favor of banning Muslims from entering the United States.

“I think what stood out to me the most was the support he had for the bigotry that he, you know, spewed out,” Taki said. “And I think that’s what hurt us the most. And I say the word ‘hurt’ because we are part of the community and we’re not going anywhere. You know this, is our home, to some of us this is our only home.”

She added that she has not experienced any anti-immigrant sentiments from El Paso residents, in part because the bi national local community of El Paso-Ciudad Juarez is more tolerant of immigrants than some other parts of the country.

“We recognize that we are fortunate that we are in El Paso because we have friends and family and relatives all over the U.S. and this is not what they’re going through. They’re actually facing a lot more, and again we’re just fortunate that we’re here…” Taki said.

Waleeja Rashid, 24, moved with her family to the U.S. from Pakistan when she was 13 years old. She lived in Chicago for four years before moving to El Paso.

“I absolutely love the Muslim community of El Paso,” Rashid said.

The population of Muslims in Chicago is much larger than El Paso’s, Rashid said, and the city has many mosques that cater to Muslims from different Islamic countries. In El Paso, however, the smaller Muslim population worships at the same mosque, the Islamic Center.

There are exceptions, however. Sofia Rassaei, a UTEP junior who studio Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry, recalls an incident when she was in eighth grade.

“I remember there was this one time that there was a Code Blue, which means they lock down the whole school. And there was this kid who starts yelling, ‘Oh Sofi’s dad came and he’s bombing our school now,’” said Rassaei,18, who is part Iranian and part Mexican. Her father, who is Iranian, studied medicine in Juarez and met her mother there.

When she heard candidate Trump’s negative remarks about Muslims and Mexicans, she says, “I was just scared.”

The Saturday after Trump signed his executive order, thousands of protesters gathered at airports across the country denouncing the ban. The largest protests took place in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston and Washington, D.C. The El Paso protest drew several dozen people.

In the immediate aftermath of the executive order, news media reported that hundreds of visa holders and even persons returning from Islamic countries but with legal residence in the U.S. were detained at airports.

At some of the protests, Muslims prayed as non-Muslims created a ring with their arms around them in order to protect them.

“It was so inspiring and it goes beyond words, honestly,” Taki said. “I think that this is such an important time in history because it has been the only time that the loudest voice on behalf of Muslims are not Muslim.”

“That’s so significant and it should be noted. It keeps us as Muslims stronger. It brings us closer to our faith, and that’s due to our brothers and sisters that are not Muslims,” Taki added.

Rassaei was equally moved by the show of support for Muslim residents expressed by non Muslims. “I thought that was really beautiful,” she said.

“When I saw the people at the airports… lawyers just sitting there writing habeas corpus (legal briefs) for individual immigrants, that’s the first time I understood what a great country this is,” Rashid added.

On Monday January 30th, three days after the order was signed, the state of Washington, joined by Minnesota, sued to “invalidate key aspects of the executive order and asked for the ban to be immediately suspended,” The Hill, an online political newsletter, reported.

The week after the order was signed, Amazon and Expedia filed lawsuits arguing that the ban hurts their employees and their businesses. In addition to those lawsuits 127 companies filed court papers against the order. Apple, Microsoft and Google were among the tech companies in the lawsuit that included Chobani, Kind and Levi Strauss.

Twenty other lawsuits were filed across the country by individual immigrants when the ban was announced, and the American Civil Liberties Union is involved in 11 of those lawsuits.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who requested a federal court stay of the Trump order, argued that “the ban harms state residents, employers and educational institutions by separating families and damaging the economy,” The Hill reported.

On Friday February 3, U.S. District Judge James Robart from Seattle temporarily banned the executive order nationwide, allowing previously denied immigrants with visas to enter the country.

The Justice Department immediately appealed the judge’s ruling, but a few days later the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied the government’s request to reinstate the immigration ban.

Most recently at a press conference, Trump said that there will be a new order coming sometime soon. “The new order is going to be very much tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision”, he said.

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