Jeff Jardine

Modesto resident’s homecoming on hold due to Trump’s immigration order

Modesto resident Romel David, photographed in 2015, is worried about his brother-in-law Hana Amo.
Modesto resident Romel David, photographed in 2015, is worried about his brother-in-law Hana Amo. Modesto Bee file

Hana Amo’s dedication to his family is unquestioned. So is his courage.

In 2014, the 61-year-old Assyrian Christian with permanent U.S. residency status left his wife and daughter in Modesto and returned to his native Syria. His mission: to help his son, Martin, and family get as far away from ISIS as possible as quickly as possible.

It didn’t go according to plan, though. In January 2015, ISIS forces captured Hana and the others in Syria. Hana and Martin were taken into the mountains while Martin’s wife and two children remained in the village under ISIS guard. Their family in Modesto, including Hana’s sister Sharlet David and her husband, Romel, could only wait, watch the news and pray that ISIS didn’t execute them.

Six months later, though, great news arrived. ISIS suddenly released them. But Hana wouldn’t return without knowing his son and family were in a safer place, and preferably headed to the U.S. and Modesto – something that couldn’t occur until the paperwork came through. That finally happened last month, when they got passports and headed to Beirut, Lebanon.

But with President Donald Trump’s immigration ban, their travel plans are on hold until further notice. Supposedly aimed at stopping Muslim terrorists from seven countries from coming to the U.S., the ban can also prevent or delay those fleeing terrorists from coming to the U.S. for years. And those coming from Syria are banned indefinitely.

They are not alone. Stories from across the country depict similar circumstances for those wanting to escape the violence of the Middle East and for their families here hoping for miracles.

“The immigration policy is not good,” Romel David told me Wednesday. “Especially for Martin, his wife and the two kids. They’ll apply for refugee status.”

They might instead opt to go to Australia, Sweden, Canada or another nation that isn’t blocking Middle East immigrants.

“Anywhere they go,” David said, “will be demonstrably better than where they’ve been.”

And what about Hana, who has U.S. residency?

“We’re not sure yet,” David said. “We’re waiting for him to get to the (American) Embassy in Beirut. He might have to stay there throughout the 90-day hold.”

It isn’t the first time a specific group has been banned from coming to the U.S., beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. With more than 14 million Chinese coming to America from the Gold Rush Era through the completion of the Transcontinental Railway, racist sentiment rose in the public and in the media, where Hearst-owned newspapers made “Yellow Peril” a common term. President Chester A. Arthur signed the act to prohibit other Chinese, with a few exceptions, from migrating to the U.S.

The anti-Asian sentiment eventually expanded to include the Japanese. The Immigration Act of 1924 ultimately limited immigration to 150,000 per year but excluded the Chinese and Japanese until the government repealed the Act in 1965.

In 1994, California voters passed Prop. 187 to stop illegal immigrants from receiving benefits from the state. Aimed almost exclusively at Mexicans, it hasn’t been enforced.

The policy Trump imposed last week, aimed specifically at Muslims, is affecting many more who want to come here, including Hana Amo and his family.

“We are Christians,” said David, who came to the U.S. from Iraq as a child in 1963. “It’s easy to vet who’s Assyrian Christian and who’s not. There are no Sunnis, no Shiite Assyrians.”

That Trump’s anti-Muslim policy will slow down or even derail Hana’s plans to bring his family home speaks to the larger problem, David said, that branding all Muslims as dangerous to the U.S. is just plain wrong.

“It fundamentally goes against what this country was built on,” he said. “I am fundamentally against discriminating against any religion.”

And totally behind bringing brother-in-law Hana Amo back home, and his son’s family to the U.S., as well.

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