Refugee Stories

Trump’s Other Wall | Two Years After the Travel Ban

“How have you been sleeping?” we ask new mom, Maryam* as she beckons us into the back bedroom. Her in-laws, visiting from Iran, are sitting in the living room with Maryam’s husband. Their 3-year-old son, Ahmad (who happens to know perfect English) is playing on the floor with an assortment of plastic animal figurines. The low hum from the T.V. plays traditional Persian music.

“Fine, fine”, she says, a surprisingly positive response coming from someone who has just given birth. We tiptoe to a bedside bassinet and peek in over the blankets to see her son, Yosef, sleeping peacefully. In hushed voices, we coo over the sweet newborn.

Two weeks earlier at a local hospital here in Turkey, Yosef was born with a cleft palate. Unable to be properly breastfed, he needs a specialized bottle and specific formula to receive the nutrients he needs to thrive.

Returning back to the living room and our half-finished cups of tea, the conversation has now turned to the inevitable surgery Yosef will have to undergo and the logistics of lining up transportation to get the hospital, a translator who speaks Turkish and Farsi, taking time off of work, and payment.

They then told us of Maryan’s brother-in-law, living and working in Seattle who has been working tirelessly to reunite his family. Exasperated, Maryam’s husband leans forward and asks, “Isn’t there something you can do to get us to the U.S.?”


With an uptick in oppression towards religious and ethnic minorities, Reza fled Iran with his wife and children to Turkey where they applied and were accepted as refugees.

Unable to work legally in Turkey, Reza’s family scraped by on unstable, under-the-table work in construction and hairdressing, working long hours with unfair wages while they waited for their immigration processes to move forward.

Reza’s process was an urgent one, with a blood vessel near his heart threatening to burst. He was promised a life-saving operation by doctors once he arrived in the United States.

After years of extensive interviews, submitting background checks, job records, and undergoing medical examinations, Reza’s family was finally able to go to the U.S. Ecstatic and with plane tickets in hand, they sold all their belongings and packed what they could into suitcases, dreaming of what life would be like once out of Turkey.

But then a new president was elected in the U.S. and their flight was canceled. 

Then rescheduled.

Then canceled.

And rescheduled and canceled again.

After 15 months of being at the mercy of out-of-touch politicians, and feeling like pawns on a board game, Reza collapsed on his apartment balcony here in Turkey. His blood vessel had finally burst. He died of a heart attack at age 54, leaving behind his wife and two sons.


As America looks to the south of the border and to the building of the wall, there is still another invisible wall that has been in place since the beginning of 2017. 

Two years ago today Trump unveiled a travel ban that would bar people from seven countries from coming into the United States for 90 days, then 120 days, and now indefinitely.

It’s where my family and I find ourselves today. Spread out across several countries, divided, and with no end in sight.

Two years ago today as my then fiance and I sat in a coffee shop dreaming of our wedding and our life in America, we first read the headlines of the travel ban, which would drastically change the course of our lives. We glued ourselves to the screen, watching news clips of the mass chaos this order unlocked.

It was a “better safe than sorry” policy carelessly put into place and came with an enormous human cost. People are separated from loved ones, spouses, fiances, sons, daughters, and parents. They are divided – dying, even – while stuck in bureaucratic limbo. 

My sister cannot make plans to marry her fiance, even though he is a citizen of a European country. They are stopped only because of the place of birth listed on his passport.

My mother-in-law is separated from her two sons, unable to visit them. She has missed weddings and births as she waits in limbo.

My husband cannot think about or plan for the future. He is told by immigration officials to “wait, just wait”. And so he does for two years and counting.


And now America looks from the southern border to the east coast as all eyes are on the state of New York, which passed a law permitting late-term abortions.

As I wade through all of the different discussions happening, feeling heartbroken and heavy, confused at what is factual, angry at what is celebrated as an expansion of rights, I cannot help but palpably feel the disconnect of the Church.

Oh Church, why are we so quick to slap a “pro-life” frame across our profile picture when just last week we were sharing memes and links that personify immigrants as wild animals, Middle Easterners as terrorists, and the poor as lazy – using language that erases the humanity, the life, of those who are vulnerable?

It is disconcerting to see the Chruch applauding President Trump’s anti-abortion statement when he demeans the lives of immigrants and bans millions of people from entering the country solely because of the passport they carry and the color of their skin.

Why do we find it easier to be silent on most human rights issues except for this one?

We cannot let abortion become a standalone issue that disconnects us from so many other human rights issues.

The travel ban is a pro-life issue. 

I pray that, far beyond defining ourselves as “pro-life”, we live out Christ’s heart: aligning ourselves with the oppressed and the vulnerable, loving our neighbors (not just those who have the same citizenship as us), caring for the poor, having compassion for refugees, seeing the humanity in immigrants, and working to reunite families.

A travel ban that cannot tell the difference between a terrorist and a victim is heartless, anti-family, and anti-life. We cannot support it.

While it seems like every day there is something new to be (oftentimes, rightly) outraged over, please remember that there are millions of people still greatly affected by this ban. 

Each day, week, month, year that goes by where we do not talk about the injustice of the travel ban, is another day that it is a victory for those who support it.

The travel ban is affecting real, innocent people. 

It is time to end the cruelty of the separation of families and loved ones. It is time to support all life.

Two years is too long.

*All names have been changed.

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