New York, US – Rama Issa, a Syrian American, was supposed to get married this autumn in New York City.
It was supposed to be a happy occasion but Issa, who has been living in the United States since 2011, had to postpone the event after the Supreme Court reinstated parts of President Donald Trump’s ban on travellers from six Muslim-majority countries earlier this week.
That meant some of Issa’s family members due to join her from abroad would not be able to do so.
“It’s so stressful to be a bride and organise your wedding and then find out you can’t even invite your family,” Issa told Al Jazeera outside New York’s JFK International Airport Terminal 4, where flights from several Middle Eastern countries operate from.
US toughens airport security for foreign flights
“I don’t want the government to tell me who is supposed to be part of my family and who is not.”
Issa was at the airport to assist other travellers who get mixed up in Trump’s temporary ban against travellers from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
Her case highlights a problem raised by the Supreme Court’s ruling which allowed Trump’s executive order to take effect but narrowed its scope, exempting travellers and refugees with a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the US.
On Wednesday, the State Department said visa applicants from the six nations must have a close US family relationship or formal ties to an American entity in order to be admitted to the country.
State Department guidance on the ban defined a close relationship as being a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling, including step-siblings, and other step-family relations.
“Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiances, and any other ‘extended’ family members” are not considered close family, according to the cable.
For Issa, this means her father in Syria’s capital, Damascus, can apply for a visa but her aunts and uncles, who endure the same daily hardships in Syria’s long-running civil war, are not able to.
A close cousin, who was tortured by the Syrian government’s security forces and is now a refugee in Austria, would not be able to celebrate her big day in the US, according to Issa. Neither would another cousin in Lebanon.
The court allowed the ban to go into effect until it can take up the case during its next term starting in October.
“This administration is redefining what family is,” said Issa, whose mother’s side of the family is based in the US.
“It’s having a big toll on me psychologically. We’re delaying the wedding so that when the Supreme Court comes out with a ruling [later this year], maybe there’s some hope to get at least my cousins over for the wedding.”
Trump first announced his temporary travel ban after being sworn in as president in January. He called it a counterterrorism measure to allow time to develop better security vetting.
The order caused major confusion at airports as officials scrambled to enforce it and was blocked by federal courts. A revised version of the ban in March was also halted by the courts.
On Thursday, hours before the narrowed version of Trump’s order was set to come into effect at 8pm local time (00:00 GMT Friday), New York’s airports were more orderly.
|Issa has been forced to postpone her wedding till next year at least [James Reinl/Al Jazeera]|
Camille Mackler, a legal boss for the New York Immigration Council, which supports immigrants in the city, told Al Jazeera that only visas being applied for once the ruling became active would be affected.
But, according to Mackler, there remained a threat for some arriving passengers, whose visas were approved before the court’s decision, being “stopped and pulled into secondary inspection” by over-vigilante US Customs and Border Protection officers.
She was there to ensure “nobody is being harmed”, said Mackler
“Around a 1,000 lawyers have emailed me since Monday. My inbox is overflowing because lawyers say they’re ready to come back out to fight,” added Mackler, advising those in need to get in touch with the Muslim Immigration Ban Hotline.
Dave Ray, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which campaigns for tighter rules on entering the US, praised the court’s decision as a victory for Trump and those who fret about national security.
“Clearly, a better vetting system needs to be in place to ensure those wishing to harm innocent Americans are prevented from entering the US,” Ray said.
The ban stirred anger and confusion in parts of the Middle East, with would-be visitors worried about their travel plans and their future.
On Thursday, Emirates Airlines said its flights to the US were operating normally. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways said it is allowing nationals from the six countries to board US-bound flights if they have valid travel documents.
Amnesty International said it had sent researchers to airports in New York, Washington and Los Angeles to monitor the implementation of the ban and assist anyone who is unfairly stopped from entering the US.
“The president wanted a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering this country and, unfortunately, he was able to take one step in that direction,” Naureen Shah, one of the group’s campaigners, said.
For Issa, the damage is already done. Arab Americans in her community of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, feel “ostracised” and “under attack”. Her wedding, to a Colombian migrant, has been pushed back to 2018 at least.
“We came here with a dream of what America is and we’re pretty disappointed with everything that’s happening,” she said.
Amnesty International said it has sent researchers to airports in New York, Washington and Los Angeles to assist anyone unfairly stopped from entering the US [AFP]
Source: Al Jazeera News