Trump's order brings dread for local refugees

Trump signs executive order on extreme vetting
President Donald Trump, center, with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Defense Secretary James Mattis, right, watching, signs an executive action on extreme vetting at the Pentagon in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017.
Susan Walsh | AP

Refugees in Minnesota are reacting to President Donald Trump's latest executive order with anxiety and dread.

Qadar Abdi, a college student and U.S. citizen, came to the U.S. from Somalia more than a decade ago.

But aside from him, Abdi's entire immediate family is still in Somalia.

"It's kind of scary for me because in the future, I want to have my brothers and sisters come over here," Abdi said. "But with Trump's new executive orders, I don't think it might happen."

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Abdi said he's fearful that the orders could lead to more permanent changes restricting the flow of refugees from several Muslim countries into the United States: "I think this is the first step to put a ban on Muslims."

One recent day at the West Bank Diner in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, there was one TV in the front of the restaurant playing soccer.

In the back, another was tuned to CNN. Many people kept their eyes glued, shocked by the president's moves.

Customer Abdi Gurhan Mohamed said even though Trump pledged to take a hard line on Muslim immigration, he didn't think the Republican president would act so soon — and so dramatically — after taking office.

"He's taking the approach he promised, and it's ridiculous," he said. "There are a lot of people here who are good people, and they just want to live the American dream."

One of Mohamed's good friends had plans to bring his future wife over from Somalia so they could get married.

Abdi Gurhan Mohamed
Abdi Gurhan Mohamed of Minneapolis said Trump's executive actions will affect a lot of Somali-Americans in Minnesota, especially those hoping to reunite with loved ones who are still overseas.
Laura Yuen | MPR News

"The wedding is planned," Mohamed said. "It's supposed to be in June. This will affect [him] big time."

Since 2002, Minnesota has welcomed nearly 41,000 refugees from all over the world, including Myanmar, Laos and Ethiopia. But the biggest source has been Somalia, with more than 16,000 resettling here in that period.

The nation's first Somali-American legislator, Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, said her fellow refugees are doctors, poets, teachers and factory workers.

"I want to offer an opportunity for our new president to come and spend a day with me, to see what it is to become Somali, to be Muslim," she said, "and to have the opportunity to have a new life."

Many Somali-Americans say it was no secret Trump had hostile views toward their community. They point to a speech he gave last fall when he stopped in the Twin Cities and told Minnesotans they had "suffered enough." Speaking to a large crowd at an airport hangar, Trump said there were "large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world."

Fast forward to President Trump, and he seems to be following through on campaign rhetoric.

This week on FOX News, Trump told Sean Hannity that the refugee restrictions will give his administration time to figure out a plan for what he's calling an "extreme vetting" of refugees.

Trump said concerns about terrorism must come first. He cited the FBI's hundreds of ongoing terror investigations in the U.S.

"These are people we let in. We don't need this," Trump told Hannity. "Some people have come in with evil intentions. Most haven't, I guess. But we can't take chances."

At least a handful of Twin Cities men, most of them of Somali descent, left for Syria to join ISIS. Most are presumed dead.

Nine others were sentenced for conspiring to enlist with the group, although none made it there.

But that's only a tiny minority of refugees, said Abdirizak Bihi of Minneapolis. "This community is not filthy. It's not extremist."

He's has been speaking out about the dangers of violent extremism for nearly a decade — ever since his teen nephew was recruited for al-Shabab in Somalia, where he eventually was killed.

Bihi said Trump needs to understand that the vast majority of Somali Americans have come here to escape war and terrorism.

Abdirizak Bihi, of the Somali American Task Force
Abdirizak Bihi
Laura Yuen | MPR News 2015

"Maybe we have the same goals in mind," Bihi said. "He hates extremism and ISIS. We do, too."

But for now, Trump's order means that refugees will have to wait a new shot at life in the U.S.