UCSB Muslim Students Speak Up about Travel Ban

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Linus Li
Staff Writer

President Trump signed an executive order late last month that temporarily suspended the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States. The Muslim community at the University of California, Santa Barbara has been coping with the recent immigration policy change.

“The last week was a lot of stress and fear,” said Rita Mounir, a first year financial math and statistics major. Mounir was born in Morocco and moved to the U.S. at the age of 18. She could not do too much to change things due to her lack of right to vote.

“I want the executive order to disappear because it does not make any sense … [Islam] teaches us how not to hate people, how not to insult, how not to rob,” Mounir said.

There are currently 30-40 active members at the Muslim Student Association at UCSB. These students represent a small portion of the Muslim community on campus.

“There are at least 500 Muslim students on campus, but because of the recent election and the Muslim ban, these students may have become less safe and less likely to identify themselves,” said Shyam Sriram, a Ph.D student and teaching assistant at the Department of Political Science.

Sriram came back from Saudi Arabia at the end of winter break worried about how he would be treated by immigration officials.

“I was telling my friends if I tried to come back right now, even though I am a U.S. citizen with a U.S. passport, I’m  sure the immigration officers would give me a hard time at the airport,” Sriram said.

Sriram is not alone. Mounir’s dad is supposed to visit her in March. Instead of being excited, she fears for her dad’s safety.

“What if my Dad cannot come?” Mounir said, “Or what if there was a ban on Moroccans during my visit to see my family and I could not come back and study here?”

“My family could be the next victim”, said Mounir.

Sara Babakhyi is a first year biopsychology major. She moved away from Morocco at the age of one.

“I have been in this country for 17 years. This is something I have never seen before and this is something I have never thought possible,” said Babakhyi. “I haven’t had the same security that I have felt in the U.S. for the past years… this is an attack on a whole group of people.”

A student who asked to not be identified said the executive order made her feel less safe in this society. “It is just the fear that because we look different, we have to be treated differently…It is the fear that we will be marginalized.”

“What if I have to go tomorrow and register myself as Muslim?” she said. After the Executive Order was signed, “[her] Dad even told [her] to not wear [her] scarf anymore… He does not want [her] to be a target for hate speeches and unnecessary attacks.”

Although Trump has said the order was not meant to ban Muslim from entering the U.S., people have nonetheless felt targeted by recent hate speech.

“The reason why it is important to be aware is because when this whole thing [the executive order] started last week… people are immediately being targeted. There is an assumption in people’s mind that all Muslims are foreign to America,” said Sriram.

Sriram has lived in America all his life and converted to Islam at the age of 26. He called himself “as American as he can possibly be.” 

“I was lying in bed and I was so sad… because you are basically telling me that people who have my religion are not wanted in the U.S.,” Sriram said. Not knowing what the future holds for Muslim society, he’s written letters and emails to Congress, the Santa Barbara City Council, and the mayor of Santa Barbara.

After all the protests and discussion panels following the November election, these students think there is a lot more that can be done to raise awareness about the hate activities targeting certain groups of students at UCSB.

“I could take part in the protest, but I want to do more,” said Sriram. He believes UCSB students “should really be there for one another if we see other people being targeted for hate speech.”

Muslim students in the community have a few messages they want to make loud and clear. While they continue to fear for what is coming in the future, they ask UCSB administration, students, staff, and faculty to stand closely together to protect their 14th Amendment rights. These students have said that they would like to be treated just like any other. They too want to be able to practice their religion comfortably and freely.

“As Americans, we are supposed to get equal protection under the law,” said Sriram.

These students said they are no exception when it comes to creating a peaceful and loving campus. “The exception are the people who create bans like this,” said Babakhyi.

“I think the next step is doing more engagement with other people and this is really hard because sometimes people are scared to talk about Islam,” said Sriram. “Stop thinking about Muslims and non-Muslims… the bigger problem is binary. I just want students to feel like they are just students. Nobody wants to be in any way singled out.”

A student who refused to be identified said she came to UCSB not knowing how she was going to be treated. “Nobody looked at me different, nobody treated me different,” she said of campus climate. “People here make me feel extra special.”

“Even if you don’t agree with certain things other people say, you give respect to everyone no matter what they look like,” she quoted her parents. She said that she would like UCSB to remain this way in the fight against the morally incorrect.

“I want people to not judge, even if they have fear and questions. Just come to us and ask, we will answer it,” Babakhyi said.

“Injustice against one is injustice against all.”

UPDATE

Feb. 7, 9:21 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that Mounir was 14 when she emigrated. Mounir was 18.

Linus Li is a third year economics major and statistical science minor. He is the only child in his family. He has always dreamed of hugging a koala, but ended up taking a selfie with a kangaroo instead. He aspires to live in a beach house. He could be found swimming in the recreation center, attempting to study in the library, or taking long day time naps in his apartment. He spends every second of his free time thinking about the coolest skydive selfie he can do. He can be found on Instagram at @linus_thatlion