An Iraqi man and US resident visiting family in Canada is in limbo after racing back to the border to beat President Donald Trump’s ban on travel to the US for Iraqi citizens.
Murtadha Al-Tameemi, 24, is a software engineer for Facebook and lives in Seattle, on a temporary work visa – but he studied at UBC and his family live in Vancouver.
He often visits his family here and has permanent residency this side of the border. On Tuesday, he was visiting Vancouver to see his brother’s first play.
That’s when Al-Tameemi received a frantic call from his immigration lawyer in the US, urging him to return to the US immediately – or he might nor be able to return at all.
“I was feeling sick, trying to process this information,” Al-Tameemi told Daily Hive. “I could lose my status, I could lose my job.”
But Al-Tameemi had looked forward to seeing his brother’s play for months – it was a very proud moment for his family – so he decided to fly back on Wednesday morning.
“I couldn’t sleep. All night I was anxious,” said Al-Tameemi, who got to the airport five hours early for his flight, just in case.
Once he arrived in the US, he had to go through the secondary screening process – something that happens every time he flies, he says.
But he made it back in time. Just.
Two days later, Trump signed the executive order, barring anyone with citizenship of seven Muslim-majority countries from the US for 90 days.
Those countries are Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and Iraq, meaning Al-Tameemi is now unable to leave the US if he wants to return in the next three months.
As a result, he has had to cancel a business trip he had planned to make on Friday, and is currently staying in Boston with a cousin, wondering what will happen next.
Al-Tameemi said his friends, co-workers, and even people he doesn’t know have shown him a lot of support and sympathy, but he now feels “in limbo.”
“I don’t even know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I have to choose, either being with my family, or keeping my job.”
Trump’s executive order also bans Syrian refugees indefinitely and halts the admission of any refugees from anywhere in the world for 120 days.
The president has said that for any Syrians applying for refugee status in future, priority would be given to Christians over Muslims.
The ban has thrown the plans of travellers who are citizens of the affected countries into chaos and has already seen some people being turned away from the US.
Five people from Iraq and one person from Yemen were reportedly barred from flying from Cairo, Egypt to New York’s JFK Airport on Saturday.
Two people with Iraqi citizenship were detained at JFK Airport, although the BBC reports one has since been released.
At the time of writing, the BBC also reports 11 Iraqi refugees were also being held at JFK Airport.
Trump has also ordered more “extreme vetting” of Muslims travelling to America and argues the ban will make the US safer, and protect people from terrorism.
Al-Tameemi disagrees – he has had to undergo secondary interrogation every time he crossed the border, even after going through the lengthy process of obtaining a visa.
“I would love to trade places with somebody and say, ‘Here’s my passport, take it and try to enter the country with an Iraqi passport and see for yourself.'”
“It’s already so strict, and so stringent, when people talk about taking it further, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
The sweeping ban has been roundly condemned by rights groups, who have launched legal challenges, suing Donald Trump and the US government.
And Google has already recalled all travelling employees who are citizens of the affected countries back to the US in response to the ban.
Al-Tameemi his whole livelihood and future is now in chaos.
“On the one hand I feel outraged, I feel frustrated, I feel rejected, I feel so many things – this is so unfair… Do I even want to be here?” he said.
But leaving would not be an easy decision, he says.
Al-Tameemi first went to the US in 2007 on an exchange program designed to improve relations and cultural understanding between Americans and people from Iraq.
And after studying at the University of British Columbia, he got sponsored for a work visa by Facebook, and now his life is in the US, his job is there, and it would be a great loss.
Despite the fact the US government now has a very different stance on his being in the country, Al-Tameemi says he’s buoyed by the fact he has a lot of support around him.
Since posting about his experience on Facebook, he has received messages of support from all over the world, including inside America, pledging to fight for his right to stay.
Now he hopes people do take action and urges them to call their senator, or call their congressman or congresswoman and demand change.
“This is an opportunity for people to come together and tell the government this doesn’t reflect our values,” said Al-Tameemi.
“I’m confident things will get better, but they won’t get better on their own.”
If you have connections to Canada and are affected by this executive order, we want to share your story. Email [email protected] with subject line “Muslim ban”.