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Immigration ban reaches Minnesota as Trump order brings confusion

Dorn and David Moody of the Willmar, Minn., Unitarian Universalist Church congregation president, listen to Elmi Mohamed translate Sunday, Jan. 29, 2 017, at Bihi's Restaurant. Church members decided to walk to the restaurant after church to represent standing with Muslim neighbors in the community. Briana Sanchez / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — They were words a Muslim American certainly did not want to hear: "We deported your wife and kids."

A few hours later, the message changed: "The kids are fine. ... But mom will be sent back."

Still more hours later, the final message became good news: "Congratulations! Your wife and kids will be released."

The story related by a Willmar, Minn., man about his family, originally reported by MinnPost.com, shows the confusion and frustration Muslim Americans faced this past weekend after President Donald Trump on Friday, Jan. 27, paused immigration from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, and temporarily banned the entry of refugees. Confusion broke out as border, customs and immigration officials struggled to act on the directive amid loud protests at major U.S. airports, including Minneapolis-St. Paul International.

Najib Abi, a cultural liaison with Willmar schools, had planned to meet his uncle's wife, son and daughter at the Minneapolis-St., Paul airport early Saturday. The three were flying from Kenya after completing a refugee vetting process that took more than two years.

There were hours upon of hours of delays until Abi and his uncle, Farah Anshur, received messages from federal officials before flying to Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C. to meet with the stranded family. They landed late Saturday, Jan. 28, after federal judges began to block parts of the Trump order, which allowed Anshur's family to stay in the United States.

"The first thing she said was, ‘Why did you used to tell me America is a free country?'" Abi said about Anshur's wife.

Minnesota politicians also were asking questions, or more often making statements, about the Trump action.

Proponents, like Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, have praised the ban as a way to block "potential terrorists" from entering the country. But opponents, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken, called the ban "possibly, very probably, unconstitutional" for targeting religion and country of origin.

U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican, said that while he supports thorough investigation of potential immigrants, "this vetting must be applied responsibly and thoughtfully, and appropriately target those who are a national security risk. Unfortunately, the president's executive order is too broad and has been poorly implemented and conceived."

Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said the ban is directed at Muslims, which Trump denies. Nolan said it "rolls back our nation’s long, hard fought battle for greater inclusion."

Congress recently approved legislation to make the country's refugee vetting process the toughest of any country, Nolan said.

Even conservative Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis was not happy with Trump's order. "I have never supported a religious test for immigration ... nor does the Constitution."

Minnesota religious leaders on Monday urged the state's residents to take action to support immigrants.

"As Christian leaders, we are called by our scripture and God to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable and welcome the sojourner," CEO the Rev. Peg Chemberlin of the Minnesota Council of Churches said. “Today we stand our ground against executive action curtailing refugee resettlement in the midst of another global crisis.”

In Willmar, with Minnesota's second-largest Somali population, Unitarian Universalist Church members staged a protest Sunday.

Walking out the doors of their church near downtown Willmar, they gripped bright yellow signs. "Love Trumps hate." "Standing on the side of love." "Were your ancestors allowed to immigrate?"

About 20 people walked from the church to the Somali-owned Bihi’s Restaurant downtown, and sat down at tables and bright red booths for coffee and conversation.

"This is an especially important time to show our belief in social justice right here in Willmar," congregation President David Moody said. “We oppose this kind of religious discrimination, and we’re proud to stand with our Muslim neighbors in opposition to that discrimination.”

A television behind the counter was set to CNN, showing large crowds of protesters.

"As a community elder, I’m very happy that you guys have come to express your solidarity," Mohamed Abdi told the group, through translator Elmi Mohamed. "Terrorists have no faith. Evil people have no faith. Anyone from any community can be a bad person or a good person."

Ibrahim Hirsi of MinnPost.com, Gretchen Brown of Forum News Service and Reuters contributed to this story.

Forum News Service

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