Asser has been in hiding in Syria for nearly a decade to avoid being arrested by the country’s notorious intelligence services and disappearing into a prison system notorious for torture and extrajudicial killings.
He says he is wanted for protesting the government of President Bashar al-Assad when the uprising began in Syria in 2011 and people demanded political and economic rights.
The unrest didn’t quite follow its path as Syria was catapulted into chaos, turning into a long-lasting war between the Russian-backed regime and a myriad of opposition groups.
In 2014, when his family, half of whom resided in the United Arab Emirates, applied to immigrate to the United States, Asser had two opinions about leaving his cause and his country.
He also had no way out of Syria yet.
As his family arrived in the United States and began the paperwork to bring him in, Asser waited to ask his connections to help him out for the day he could join his family.
“My family left during Obama’s tenure when the refugees were accepted by the United States, but my documents were later erased. At that time, Trump’s ban on the entry of citizens from certain Muslim countries, including Syria, prevented me from reuniting with my family, ”Asser said on the phone from Damascus. His name has been changed for his protection as he fears being apprehended by the security apparatus.
On his first day in office, US President Joe Biden kept his promise to end Trump’s “unconstitutional Muslim ban” by revoking travel restrictions in 13 countries, mostly Muslim or African majority.
It has given hope to the tens of thousands of people affected by the ban.
‘Unfair, very unfair’
But those who, like Asser, saw the United States as the land of political freedom and aspired to usher it in their country, are still shocked that they have been classified as a security threat.
Trump had disguised the xenophobic ban as an essential tool to bolster national security in order to take it to the US Supreme Court.
“Living in oppression throughout your life under the regime, then comes a decision of a democratic state that prevents you from seeing your family,” Asser said. “It was unfair, very unfair.”
Trump’s ban has also shaken the faith of members of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as activists, in other countries on the list who have claimed to be persecuted by their governments but who admired the United States.
Ali Reza Assadi is an Ahvaz Arab, an ethnic minority in Iran. He said he worked as an engineer at the National Iranian Oil Company, but often spoke out against what he saw as state-sanctioned discrimination against his community.
He feared being arrested and fled to Turkey in 2014.
“UNHCR offered us the United States as a resettlement country and we easily accepted it,” he told Al Jazeera from Kayseri, a town in central Anatolia.
“But the date of our last interview was set for March 2017. That never happened because of Trump’s ban on Iranians from entering.”
Like Asser, Ali also subscribes to the values held by the United States and questions what makes him and his children appear to be a security threat.
“In my opinion, it was not a humanitarian act at all. I have stood up for the rights of persecuted minorities, just as the United States says. How do my family and I pose a threat to the national security of the United States? “
Sirvan Morandi works at the Boeing plant in Seattle. He was supposed to be in the United States with his whole family, but Trump’s ban separated them.
His father, mother, sister and younger brother had all been authorized to travel to the United States in pre-Trump times, but as confusing new regulations on refugee flows were discussed in federal courts, their flights have been canceled several times.
Then his father died.
“We were supposed to fly to America, but they canceled our tickets over and over again. Then my father died, ”he told Al Jazeera in Seattle. “We were asked to apply as different family units. My aunt and I were allowed to travel, but my mother and siblings are still stuck in Turkey.
The Morandi family practices the Yersan faith, a syncretic tradition with roots in 14th century Iran, most of whose adherents in Iraq and Iran are ethnic Kurds.
The Kurds do not have a state of their own but are spread across the region in Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. The Syrian Kurds were the allies of the United States in the war against the armed group ISIL (ISIS).
Like Ali, Sirvan’s father was also an outspoken member of his community and feared being arrested in Iran. His hopes were on the United States but he died stateless in Turkey.
With every visa application canceled or put on hold under Trump, thousands of lives have been thrown into disarray, hopes dashed and dreams of a better life have come to an end. Biden may try to turn things around, but Trump’s legacy of an unwelcoming US could prove to be lasting.
Only 55% of Americans supported Biden’s decision to repeal the ban, according to an ABC-Ipsos poll. It’s a slim majority and it says a lot about the country Trump left behind.
He showed a long hidden side of America that could deter many other countries from seeing it as a panacea to their problems.
Ahmad, a Lebanese man, is grappling with a severe economic crisis and Israeli jets flying overhead almost daily, a constant threat to the lives of his children. He said he would have liked to go to the United States in search of peace and prosperity, but no more.
“Trump is gone, but a lot of Americans still see Islam and the Islamic people in a certain way that is wrong,” Ahmad said.
“We know Biden is not like Trump, but whoever the leader is America is racist against us and that runs deep.”