Immigrant leaders from Greater Portland met virtually Wednesday night to celebrate the end of former President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several primarily Muslim countries, expressing hope that the Biden administration’s immigration policies will bring renewed hope to families separated by a ban they characterized as racist and fomenting hate.

“This Muslim ban is a very unfortunate part of the history of this country,” said Pious Ali, a Portland City councilor and native of Ghana in West Africa. “We had been known as the most welcoming country in the world and then Trump shut it down. We lived under a president who was anti-Muslim and a racist.”

The virtual meeting, which was organized by the Maine People’s Alliance, comes after President Joe Biden on Jan. 20 signed an executive order rescinding Trump’s travel ban.

“Those actions are a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all,” Biden’s proclamation states. “Beyond contravening our values, these Executive Orders and Proclamations (signed by Trump) have undermined our national security. They have jeopardized our global network of alliances and partnerships and are a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over.”

The so-called Muslim ban, which was enacted in January 2017, has undergone several changes. The third version of the ban, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, barred citizens of seven countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela and North Korea – from obtaining any kind of visas, preventing most people from those countries from entering the United States. Trump deemed residents of those countries to be security threats.

Trump’s travel ban separated thousands of families and disrupted their lives after it was enacted during his first week in office. Since 2017, the restrictions led to denial of more than 41,000 visa requests, the Washington Post reported. Trump’s policy also prevented lifesaving surgeries for individuals from banned countries. When the ban was announced it resulted in mass protests in airports across the United States, with people from the affected countries being held for questioning for hours.

The Washington Post reported that Biden plans to send the U.S. Citizenship Act to Congress. It would include the No Ban Act, a provision that would prevent future presidents from enacting discriminatory travel bans in the future.

Immigrant leaders from Maine said Trump’s travel ban caused significant harm in their communities, but they expressed hope that immigration policies will be fair under Biden.

Mohamed Ibrahim, a Lewiston resident and a member of the Maine People’s Alliance, said the panel discussion is one of several local and national events aimed at pushing immigration reform.

“We’re having this discussion after four long years of discrimination and racism and targeting one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States,” Ibrahim, who came to the United States in 2012, said. “(Trump’s travel ban) was shocking, devastating and hurtful. It was a very tense four years. We felt we were under attack.”

Deqa Dhalac was elected to the South Portland City Council in 2018. A single mother of three and a social worker, she came to the United States in 1992 from Somalia in East Africa.

Dhalac offered an example of a neighbor – a mother of two – who came to her seeking help. The woman’s husband was prohibited from joining her because he lived in one of the countries affected by the travel ban. He applied for a visa several years ago. Dhalac said the woman’s job made it difficult for her to support her children on her own and she needed parenting help and financial support.

“The Muslim travel ban blocked everything for her. It divided families and was hard for us to see,” Dhalac said.

The travel ban created fear, hate and divided the nation, she said.

“Trump won, to be honest,” Dhalac said, while mentioning the riot in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. “It broke my heart to see the violence. The country is still divided. How can we put it back together? It’s going to take time.”

Ali is grateful that the nation voted Trump out of office.

“If we hadn’t voted him out, we would be headed toward a cliff that we would all have fallen off,” Ali warned. “Trump empowered a group of people, who felt emboldened to come out and tell us how much they hate us. We are not out of the woods yet.”

Ali Al-Mshakheel is a former journalist who came to the United States in 2014 from Iraq. Al-Mshakheel, who lives in Biddeford, is the co-owner of a language translation service based in Portland. He has three children.

His son, who was 7 years old when the travel ban took effect in 2017, came to his father, terrified that their family would be deported by the Trump administration.

“He said to me, are we going to be deported?” Al-Mshakheel recalled. “He was scared, he was afraid because he was Muslim. The ban spread fear and it spread discrimination.”

But, last week his son raised the issue again.

“He told me he wanted to write a letter to the president,” Al-Mshakheel said. “He wanted to thank Biden because he feels safe again.”

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