Travel ban hits home for metro Atlanta Muslims, supporters

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VIDEO: Supreme Court Upholds President Trump's Travel Ban

As Liliana Bakhtiari stood among 150 people in downtown Atlanta late Tuesday protesting the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban, she wondered whether her aunt would be allowed off the plane upon arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Bakhtiari, a former Atlanta City Council candidate, said her aunt emigrated from Iran two years ago and is a green card holder. But Bakhtiari is worried that may not be enough to ensure her aunt will get to return to her Stone Mountain home.

“We have been notified by friends that are lawyers that that’s not a guarantee that she’ll be OK,” Bakhtiari said.

Her aunt’s flight was scheduled to land Tuesday night.

Trump’s travel ban prohibits travelers from some countries with large Muslim populations from entering the United States.

It’s a decision that hits close to home for several metro Atlanta families and activists.

“Disappointment is an understatement,” said Soumaya Khalifa, president of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta. “This is not what brought people to this country from all over the world throughout the centuries. This is supposed to be the land of justice, equality and religious freedom. We were hoping that the checks and balances of our government would uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

Others view the travel ban differently.

Faith & Freedom Coalition Executive Director Tim Head said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s ruling protects the nation “by temporarily hitting the pause button on immigration from countries that threaten our security.” And he noted that the court ruled the ban is a part of the president’s “constitutional responsibility to protect the homeland.”

The travel ban has been in place since December and the policy applies to travelers from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to The Associated Press. It also affects two non-Muslim countries, blocking North Korean travelers and some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

For the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Tuesday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision intensifies sentiment that the ban discriminates against Muslims.

“Many of us were hoping that this would go the other way,” Warnock said with a deep, heavy sigh. “It’s a sad day in America, and it’s the wrong message we are sending to the world. The decision gives comfort to extremists who love to couch this as a war.”

Warnock held a press conference earlier denouncing the decision and reiterated in a statement that he will “stand with all of our Muslim sisters and brothers and against all who would enshrine and canonize bigotry into law.”


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Warnock’s sentiments were shared at the rally outside the Richard B. Russell Building downtown.  Organizers included Project South, Somali American Community Center, CAIR Georgia, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Southerners On New Ground, Jewish Voice for Peace-Atlanta Chapter, Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, ACLU of Georgia and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

As a first-generation Muslim-American, Maryam Ahmad said it was her duty to protest and stand up for what her fellow Muslims are experiencing.

“I know people who were detained and (who are) not from the countries on the ban,” Ahmad said.

The 29-year-old Clarkston woman said she protests for family members who are too scared to speak out. She said she recognizes her privilege of being American-born, but even that comes with difficulties.

“My mom is worried and tells everyone to be careful because my brothers have been put on a list before — just for their names being similar to terrorists,” she said.

Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South’s legal and advocacy director, said the decision reinforces what she thinks President Trump wanted all along: a ban on Muslims.


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“It was a reprehensible decision by the president, who has made it clear over and over and over again that he wanted to shut down entry of Muslims into this country,” Shahshahani told The AJC. “And now the Supreme Court has legitimatized that. Entire groups of people have now been stigmatized and treated as a threat.”

Shahshahani isn’t alone her thinking.

According to a 2017 survey of U.S. Muslims conducted by the Pew Research Center, nearly 75 percent believe there is "a lot" of discrimination against them while another 68 percent indicated Trump has them worried. The views are further strengthened by the number of assaults reported against Muslims. According to the FBI's hate crime statistics, there were 307 anti-Muslim crimes committed in 2016.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision upholding a travel ban targeted at people of the Muslim faith is a failure of historic proportions. It stands against the very principles upon which this country was founded: religious liberty and freedom of expression,” Burrell Ellis, political director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement.


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Ahmad said tensions against Muslims are already at a fever pitch, and the travel ban will simply worsen it.

Warnock echoed similar sentiments.

“My heart aches today for my Muslim sisters and brothers,” he said. “Some will have to explain this decision to their little boy or girl in the same way African-Americans had to explain to their child why they couldn’t eat at a certain restaurant.”

In the meantime, Bakhtiari looks to re-energizing the community.

“The first step is getting people motivated to come back out again,” she said. “Every day, you wake up to a new hit — whether it’s families being torn apart at the border, or kids being held in detention centers, or the travel ban going back into effect. People are exhausted, but you have to find unity in numbers.”

— Staff writer Shelia Poole and The Associated Press contributed to this report.