When President Trump's original Muslim travel ban was challenged in court, my son and I watched the legal proceedings together on C-SPAN.
“Why was the president trying to stop people from coming to America?” he asked me. Because I didn't want to worry him, I told him that the president instituted the ban because terrorists posed a threat to our country, but he wasn’t fooled.
“What about Nani?” he asked, referring to his grandmother.
“She’s not a terrorist.” I said, trying to laugh. “Besides, Pakistan isn’t on the list.”
“What about Abdullah’s grandmother?” he persisted. Abdullah is his friend, who is an Iraqi refugee. “How will she visit him when they have a family reunion?” I had to concede that was a good question.
Today, President Donald Trump's travel ban went into effect following Monday's Supreme Court decision, which placed restrictions on the ban but allowed much of it to remain intact. Now that the ban is officially in effect, I am concerned for the little boys and girls who will be unable to meet their family members because of this policy. And I am concerned for my children, who will grow up in a country where Islamophobia is now not only normalized, but encouraged.
When President Trump issued the original version of the travel ban, which prevented people from six majority Muslim countries from entering the United States, it was a nightmare for my Muslim-American family and the Muslim community at large. I am originally from Pakistan, but I came to the United States in 1998. My husband had arrived a few years earlier as a student. We have spent almost 20 years in this country, and our two children were born here, but we still face the specter of racism and Islamophobia thanks to policies by our new government.
Airport security officials took my baby from me, stripped him, and checked his diaper to ensure that I hadn’t hidden a bomb in there.
The Muslim travel ban is a glaring example of such a policy, regardless of how watered down the new, Supreme Court-approved version of the ban is. (The new travel ban allows people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Syria to enter the country, provided they can prove they have significant family ties to the United States.) The effects of such a policy are far-reaching. A study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) determined that TSA agents are increasingly targeting Muslims and other minority groups for additional screenings, which stinks of racial profiling.
This is extremely troubling to me, particularly because my family is currently getting ready for a vacation to Europe in a few weeks. While traveling with two children is never fun, there is added stress when I consider that I will be wearing a hijab and speaking a foreign language. I am already wondering if we will be profiled, or how I will react if a TSA agent tells me to remove my hijab. I'm already concerned that we might be removed from a flight if we are heard speaking in our native language, Urdu.
To some, these fears might seem unfounded. But for me and millions of other Muslims traveling by air every year, they are a very real possibility. In fact, several years ago I was traveling with my baby, and airport security officials took my baby from me, stripped him, and checked his diaper to ensure that I hadn’t hidden a bomb in there. I can't tell you how many times I’ve been asked to wait for extra security to arrive and check my hijab, my bags, or my children’s milk bottles. I imagine that this year during our vacation, it will be even worse. Whenever policies like the travel ban or extreme security screenings go into effect, TSA agents get carte blanche to misuse their authority. They feel emboldened by the government sanctioning their racial bias.
My own mother and grandmother are in Pakistan, and I am urging them to visit while they can, lest the travel ban be extended to other Muslim-majority nations and we are denied from seeing our loved ones for no reason.
Racial profiling is not just an issue in the United States. Europe has a much harsher attitude towards its Muslim populations, and the bigotry against religious practice there is much more blatant, as indicated by the partial or full bans on burqas, veils, and scarves in Austria, Germany, and France. Our family trip to Europe will likely be fraught with awkward stares and hateful glances from passers-by. I am already expecting the worst, but Islam teaches us to counter bigotry and abuse with an answer of “peace be on you,” and that is how I plan to react.
I know I have to set an example for my children, as they are extremely conscious of the fact that we are living in an era of political tumult. My son especially has been harassed in school by other students, who taunted him that he would get deported when Trump was elected. As a mom, it’s my job to teach them how to respond to hateful comments in a manner that reflects the beautiful teachings of our religion.
The travel ban doesn't just affect our upcoming trip. It has serious implications for other families in our social circle, including children. One Iraqi family with two boys close to my son’s age is extremely worried about their family members in Iraq. Another Iranian woman I know worries about never seeing her daughters and grandchildren again. Even those with no ties to the six countries on the travel ban are worried, due to the uncertainty of the future of the Trump administration.
This last concern is an important piece of the bigger puzzle. Although Pakistan, my home country, is not yet on the banned list, my own mother and grandmother are in Pakistan, and I am urging them to visit while they can, lest the travel ban be extended to other Muslim-majority nations and we are denied from seeing our loved ones for no reason. My children rarely see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins, and they are a strike of President Trump's pen away from never seeing them again. There would be so many birthdays missed; so many milestones forgotten.
In the meantime, I plan our family vacation, reminding my husband that we should leave for the airport earlier than normal, in case we get randomly selected by the TSA for a search. His answer is telling: "Tell me something I don't know."