Executive order hits home for Gloucester


Photo courtesy of the Cape Ann Beacon


Mohamad Alsweidani’s high school life is not much different than the average American teenager’s.

Mohamad takes notes on the worlds of functions and triangles in math class. He jokes with his friends at lunch in the cafeteria, and takes electives that fuel his interests. He tries to perfect his reading and writing skills, even if he is doing so in an ESL class instead of the typical English class. And like every other American teenager, Mohamad’s main goal is to discover, and define, what his future has in store.

“When I grow up, I want to make my dreams come true in America,” Mohamad said with a smile.

But in these politically tumultuous times, Mohamad’s situation is much different than the average American teenager’s. Along with hundreds of thousands of others, he, his brother Yahia, and his family are Syrian refugees.

“Life here is much better than in Syria,” said Mohamad. “Syrian life was very tough.”

After fleeing their war-torn country, Mohamad and his family spent a year and a half in Turkey. There, they registered for American citizenship and were interviewed for legal immigration to America.

Now, Mohamad and his family have lived in Gloucester for three months, and will hopefully avoid the discrimination his people are being subjected to nationwide as a result of recent political actions.

President Trump’s controversial executive order has sent many Americans and their families into a frenzy, as it declares all people from seven predominantly Islamic countries barred from travelling to America for the next 90 days. All refugees seeking to enter the United States will also be unable to enter for the next 120 days.

“For the Muslim population in Gloucester, I’m sure that they’re very worried to hear about their own status,” said GHS history teacher Timothy Kearns. “If this is where it starts, where is it going to go? Where is it going to end?”

President Trump’s campaign promise to quell Islamic terrorism is now becoming a reality. But, many are worried that his controversial methods of achieving this goal will foster discrimination in their own communities.

“Any acts of violence, discrimination, or harassment do not reflect the values of the Gloucester community, and will not be tolerated by this administration,” said Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken in a November press release regarding the presidential election. “The Mayor is proud to continue our community spirit by honoring our commitments to respectfulness, equality, non-discrimination, and keeping all of our people safe.”

The executive order temporarily bans all citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the United States, unless they are enroute for diplomatic reasons.

Although Lebanon does not fall under the ban, Joseph Kotob, a 15 year old from Gloucester, is worried that it will eventually affect his family. Kotob’s father, who was raised in Lebanon by Muslim parents, immigrated to America when he was young and is still in touch with many of his Muslim relatives who still live there.

“It is scary to think this could have happened to my dad when he came to this country,” said Kotob. “And it is scary to think that this kind of action might affect Lebanon in the future and affect our relatives there.”

President Trump, however, has firmly stood by his ban.

“The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States,” wrote Trump in the executive order. “Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans.”

However, no radical Islamic terrorists who have attacked American soil in the past two decades, including the perpetrators who directly attacked the country on 9/11, have hailed from the seven countries to which President Trump’s ban applies.

Local politicians have voiced their concerns with the order, including Congressmen Seth Moulton, a Democrat who represents Gloucester and the rest of the sixth district in Congress.

“His executive orders banning refugees and immigrants from some Muslim majority countries to the United States play right into the hands of our enemies,” said Moulton in response to the executive order. “ISIS has already used his statements to help recruit new suicide bombers, and you can bet Trump’s policies will help inspire attacks against Americans both at home and abroad.”

The 2016 fiscal year was the highest year for Muslim refugee admittance to the United States on record. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, 38,901 Muslim refugees made up 46 percent of all refugees who entered the country during this period.

President Trump’s latest executive order will effectively minimize the trend President Obama’s administration had set for Muslim admittance into the U.S. He stated that this action is necessary to preserve freedom in America.

“The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law,” said Trump. “In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred…or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.”

Trump also said to the Christian Broadcasting Network in regards to recent refugee admittance trends under Barack Obama that “if you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.”

However, the same Pew Research report showed that 44 percent of the refugees who were permitted entry to the U.S. in 2016 were Christian, which is roughly only 2 percent less than the number of Muslim refugees admitted in the same fiscal year.

“We are a nation of immigrants, and America is stronger when we welcome the refugees of our enemies,” said Moulton. “These policies do not put America first.”

In relevance to Gloucester, Mayor Romeo Theken reassures that any harmful reactions to Islamic presence in the city will not be tolerated.

“The Gloucester Police Department has been instructed to take all allegations seriously and will work diligently to investigate any claims of discrimination.”

Locals from across Massachusetts have actively opposed Trump’s latest executive order by protesting at airports, including Logan Airport in Boston, and voicing their perspectives of the issue.

“[This executive order] violates the spirit of this country,” said Kearns. “It puts a black flag over the statue of liberty that welcomes those people looking for safety, looking for opportunity.”

Whether or not President Trump’s actions will be as condemning as some predict is yet to be seen. However, refugees like Mohamad have not lost hope for America.

“It’s very nice here in America because of freedom, because of friends.”

Mohamad Alsweidani’s interview was translated from Arabic to English by Meriam Kotob