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Yemeni-American Reacts To Supreme Court Ruling Upholding Travel Ban


Many Americans here in the United States are impacted by President Trump's travel ban. Steve Inskeep checked back in with one man following the Supreme Court's decision.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: His name is Zaid Nagi. We first heard him on this program in the spring when we met him in New York City in the Bronx.


INSKEEP: Are you Zaid?


ZAID NAGI: I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.

OCHSENSCHLAGER: Don't worry about it.

INSKEEP: Salaam alaikum. Hello.

NAGI: Walaikum as-salaam. How you doing?

INSKEEP: He's a U.S. citizen originally from Yemen, one of the countries covered by the travel ban. He leads an association of Yemeni-American store owners. Over lunch, Nagi described how Yemeni men commonly immigrate to America and support their families in the old country.


NAGI: And what do you do is every month, you send them the money. So you literally is - you are a candle burning itself so for others to survive.

INSKEEP: Now Yemeni-Americans have a problem. Nagi, as well as many friends and relations, have loved ones desperate to flee Yemen's civil war. Before the Supreme Court ruling, Nagi was optimistic that many could reach America. Afterward, we called him back.

NAGI: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: Hey. How are you doing, sir?

NAGI: I'm doing OK.

INSKEEP: Zaid Nagi told us how he'd spent recent weeks. He knew that Supreme Court rulings come out with no warning on certain days.

NAGI: For the last two weeks, every decision day, I wake up and just wait. I had the phone in my hand, keep on going onto Google and searching every 30 seconds or so.

INSKEEP: On Tuesday, he refreshed the screen one more time.

NAGI: Article appeared in front of me.

INSKEEP: What did you think when you saw that?

NAGI: Devastated, disappointed. For a long time, I'm the voice who will tell people that - even when lawyers were speaking and telling us it's not looking good, I still, inside of me, thought that the wise men of America, the judges will never allow this to happen.

INSKEEP: After the oral arguments for the case, many observers did say it looked like the Supreme Court would preserve the president's travel ban.

NAGI: I just didn't want to accept that this great country that we traveled so far for is going to allow this to happen.

INSKEEP: Zaid Nagi and other Yemeni-Americans are citizens of the United States. Yet they say they're affected by the travel ban targeting noncitizens. Many have families with mixed status. A husband may be a citizen, so his kids can become citizens. But the mother is not. Now as families flee the humanitarian disaster of a U.S.-supported war, the mothers have been denied entry to the U.S., and so their small children remain behind, too.

This spring, we traveled to the East African nation of Djibouti. And there, we met the stranded refugee family of a Bronx man, an American named Mohammed Hamza (ph).



INSKEEP: And we sat on a mattress in a windowless room with Hamza's wife, Saba.


INSKEEP: We had an opportunity to meet your husband in New York City.

SABA: (Speaking Arabic).

INSKEEP: "Yes," she said. "I wish I could be with him." And she produced a packet of papers, including the blue U.S. passport of 3-year-old Suleiman.

When did you begin to feel that it would be difficult to remain in Yemen?

SABA: (Speaking Arabic).

INSKEEP: She says, "when the war came in 2015," talking while Suleiman, the 3-year-old American, climbed on her lap.

I'm just going interrupt to mention he's giving you a hug with his passport still in hand.

It's not easy to leave Yemen, but the family fled by boat. They found a place in this apartment building, which is filled with Yemenis. They went to the U.S. Consulate seeking visas. Remember the husband in the Bronx? He came over to bring everyone home with him. He was able to take home two older children who were U.S. citizens. But his wife, Saba, and 18-year-old daughter Fatima had no citizenship and received no visa.

Do you remember the day you said goodbye to them?

SABA: (Speaking Arabic).

INSKEEP: "They left while I was asleep," she said. "They didn't tell me because they didn't want to upset me."

That was our reporting from March, when the mother still had hope to receive a U.S. visa. A few weeks later, she received a letter which said her visa was denied due to President Trump's travel ban. Her last hope was the Supreme Court. Yet Zaid Nagi, the Yemeni-American in the Bronx, still tells people today not to give up.

NAGI: I actually been telling them since President Trump ran for it. I was telling them, he's not going to win. This is America - does not accept things like this. And then when he won - it's OK; the system will not allow him to carry his hate. And then when the travel ban came - it's OK; the courts and the system has checks and balances to keep this hate off. You know, our gamble now is on the public to stand with us to refuse what's happening and maybe even the election.

INSKEEP: You told us something when we met in the Bronx a few months ago. You said that it was natural that Yemeni-Americans specifically would face this problem or face some kind of struggle and that it was part of gaining a place in the United States for every immigrant group to have to fight for your rights. Do you still believe that?

NAGI: Yes. I personally believe that before you are considered part of not the other anymore - before you are included in the fabric, you are tested. And I think it's our community's turn to be tested.

INSKEEP: Zaid Nagi has been watching in recent days as Americans protested family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border and pressed the president to back down. Nagi contends Yemeni-American families, too, are being separated. And he hopes their story is heard.

GREENE: Steve Inskeep speaking there with Zaid Nagi who helps lead the Yemeni American Merchants Association. They were talking via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.