It was almost a week after the 2017 Women’s March — possibly the largest single-day protest in U.S. history — that President Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. At the time, I was sitting with friends in Los Angeles and found myself in tears. I couldn’t believe it.
The new administration was wasting no time in keeping their campaign promises to target the communities I love and belong to. Soon after the executive order was signed, a tweet went out asking people to show up at airports across the country in order to stand up against the order.
I went to Los Angeles International Airport and saw an image that continues to fill my heart with hope — hundreds of people demanding entry for Muslim immigrants and refugees from countries placed on the travel ban. As a Muslim American who has been working to defend the rights of Muslims in the post 9/11 era, this act of solidarity was especially important and meaningful.
Two days after the executive order, I became the lead plaintiff in Sarsour vs. Donald J. Trump, a lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations against the Muslim ban based on Trump’s clear anti-Islam bias during his campaign. We were not going to sit back. We were going to organize and fight back regardless of the consequences.
Over the past year, this administration has put forth multiple versions of the Muslim ban, worked to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, targeted undocumented immigrants in mass deportation sweeps and employed manipulative, hateful rhetoric against our communities. Their shameless use of the courts to defend what they know is immoral and unconstitutional further shows their disregard for our nation’s laws. It has been both a privilege and an inspiration to stand with people resisting each effort, because behind the policy arguments are real people whose lives are being upended.
Each Muslim ban has separated families, many of whom live in my community in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I know Yemeni-American fathers who are longing to see their children but are in visa limbo in countries like Ethiopia, Egypt and Djibouti. Syrian refugees — who have already suffered in the journey to leave their homes — have been further separated from half of their families because of the ban.
As a result of my advocacy on behalf of Muslims and standing unapologetically against this administration, I have been met with vicious attacks, smear campaigns and death threats. Amidst the vitriol directed at me as a Palestinian Muslim-American activist, the hardest thing for me as a mother has been explaining to my beautiful, aware, Palestinian Muslim-American children why the country they love is banning people who look like them and share their faith from coming here. How do I explain to teenagers why this administration has such contempt for them and their faith? The key for them has been our friends and their acts of solidarity, which have helped me and my children cope with this pain and trauma.
Since the horrific attacks of 9/11, Muslims in America have been met with racial and religious profiling by all levels of law enforcement. We’ve endured unwarranted and blanket surveillance, deportations and registration programs. We’ve also been erroneously placed on no-fly lists and experienced an exponential rise in hate crimes against our communities. We often found ourselves advocating in small groups, or alone.
But over the last year, I felt a shift.
This year was the first time we saw allies mobilizing for Muslims and fighting back against the racism and bigotry directed at us. My visible participation in the Women’s March in 2017 and the very successful anniversary earlier this month has been a heartwarming experience for Muslims across the world. It was inspiring.
No matter how many Muslim bans or other ugly policies are introduced by Trump and his administration, one thing is clear — when we fight together, we win every time. Muslims cannot do this alone, and we should not do it alone. I ask my fellow Americans not to be distracted and to keep the focus on building power and protecting the most marginalized amongst us. I know my American history. There have been dark times like slavery, the treatment of native Americans and the internment of Japanese Americans. During those dark times, a silent majority turned a blind eye to grave injustice, and we cannot let it happen again. Let us commit to standing shoulder to shoulder against the coming storm. People are counting on us.