January 31, 2017, Clarkston - Councilman Awet Eyasu, right, speaks during a special session of the Clarkston City Council in Clarkston, Georgia, on Tuesday, January 31, 2017. The session is taking place to discuss president Donald Trump’s recent executive orders and how the city of Clarkston plans to respond. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Georgia’s ‘Ellis Island of the South’ reacts to Trump’s travel ban

Clarkston leaders — who represent a tiny Atlanta area haven for refugees and immigrants nicknamed “the Ellis Island of the South” — offered mixed reactions to President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban at a packed City Council meeting Tuesday.

“Welcoming refugees makes Clarkston and America a stronger nation,” Mayor Ted Terry said. “We as a nation can and should take in more refugees, not less.”

Councilman Ahmed Hassan, a native of Somalia who came to the U.S. to study, called Trump’s executive order “unfair.”

“This executive order is really unfair and it is religious discrimination,” he said.

Councilman Awet Eyasu, a native of Eritrea who also came to the U.S. to go to school, said he supports the goal of boosting the security screening process for newcomers.

“I definitely sympathize with the administration’s concern,” he said. “We are going to have to make sure no bad apples pass through our security system. That is definitely a very good rational to halt the immigration process temporarily. I am hoping it is going to be temporary.”

On Friday, Eyasu called The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to clarify his position on the president’s travel ban. He said he disagrees with how it has been carried out and wants the government to change how it is dealing with Syrian refugees.

“I do understand the security concern. That is the No. 1 thing,” he said Friday. “However, I just do not agree with how it was done. I do not agree with the way they did it in an unorganized fashion. They stopped so many green card holders. That should have never happened.”

“And the fact that they have (indefinitely) banned Syrians. That is not really fair. Women and children at least should be allowed to come in the meantime — and then allow the men with more scrutiny.”

Issued on Jan. 27, the president’s order bars people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for three months: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The order also bars any refugees from resettling in the U.S. for four months and it indefinitely blocks Syrian refugees from resettling here.

Trump’s decree has sparked federal lawsuits and created massive confusion at airports across the nation. Thousands of demonstrators gathered at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to protest Sunday.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly defended Trump’s order during a news conference Tuesday, saying it is not a “ban on Muslims.”

“By preventing terrorists from entering our country, we can stop terror attacks from striking the homeland,” he said. “We cannot gamble with American lives. I will not gamble with American lives. These orders are a matter of national security, and it is my sworn responsibility as Secretary of Homeland Security to protect and defend the American people.”

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