Much of the media coverage immediately surrounding the implementation of Trump’s executive orders was focused on airport chaos, unjust detentions, and legal proceedings. Over the course of October and November of 2017, Drew Harper spoke with seven Somali families in Columbus. The effects of President Trump’s travel ban reach beyond airports. 

Columbus, Ohio has the second-largest population of Somalis in the United States, with tens of thousands of the minority in the city. As one of the nationalities targeted by the travel bans, this demographic demonstrates the real-life effects of President Donald Trump’s executive orders barring immigration to the US from several majority-Muslim countries. Whereas most media attention focused on the immediate aftermath of this policy, such as airport detainment and legal challenges to the executive orders, the current situation in Columbus is telling of on-going ill effects of the executive orders.

Executive Orders 13769 & 13815

On 27th January 2017, only days after entering office, President Trump signed Executive Order 13769: “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, which prohibited the immigration of nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen to the U.S.

Somalis in Columbus, among the affected populations, as well as non-affected peoples immediately began to protest the policy. Though, despite popular dissent and legal proceedings, renewed iterations of the order precipitated in a new, similarly threatening, travel ban.

Issued in October 2017, Executive Order 13815 similarly bars nationals of Iran, Libya, North Korea (DPRK), Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen who cannot prove a bone fide relationship with a party in the U.S. from immigration.

Rulings on this executive order will most likely be appealed, eventually reaching the Supreme Court. As of now, though, individuals of the aforementioned countries are unable to immigrate to the U.S. without a bone fide relationship with a party in the country. This most recent version of the travel ban is particularly problematic, as the language defining bona fide relationship is unclear, which becomes evident in the cases of Somalis in Columbus.

Somali population in Columbus

This policy means further confusion and instability for Somalis in Columbus. Through interviews with members of the Somali community in central Ohio, the gravity of this situation became clear to me.

I contacted Jamil, whose name has also been anonymized, over the phone. He told me his family’s story of immigrating to the U.S. He and his wife came with their daughter, age 8, to Columbus in 2015, fleeing war-torn Somalia, and leaving their son, age 14, behind. Jamil expected his son to join him and his family in late 2016, but, due to issues obtaining a visa, his son is still in a refugee camp in Uganda. As a result of Trump’s travel bans, Jamil’s family is unlikely to be reunited any time soon. The family’s lawyer is unsure whether their residence in Columbus qualifies a bona fide relationship for the son stranded in Uganda, leaving Jamil and his wife unsettled.

In a similar case, Jibril, whose name has also been anonymized, told me his story. Having come to the U.S. to earn money eventually to bring his wife and three children, Jibril’s plans were disrupted by President Trump’s travel bans, which bar his family from joining him in Columbus. Currently, they are still in Somalia, and, like Jamil, Jibril is unsure as to whether he can prove a bona fide relationship such that his family members can be granted visas to join him.

Over the course of October and November of 2017, I spoke with seven Somali families in Columbus with similar stories. Having sought asylum in Columbus for themselves and eventually for family members, many Somalis made plans that were ultimately halted by Trump’s travel bans.

Broader Significance

While these two narratives illustrate the experiences of just two Somali families in Columbus, they reflect a larger trend– the potential long-term effects of the travel bans. Much of the media coverage immediately surrounding the implementation of Trump’s executive orders was focused on airport chaos, unjust detentions, and legal proceedings. With time, the effects of the travel bans have shifted from such issues to matters of long-term family separation. The likelihood of families like Jamil and Jibril’s being reunited during a Trump presidency is slim. But even post-Trump, the damage done to such families may forever be irreparable.

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Drew Harper

Drew Harper is a Yale Young Global Scholar in International Affairs and Security.

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