FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA — Following a temporary victory that put President Donald Trump’s revised Muslim ban on hold, dozens of people attended prayers and a town hall meeting at Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center on Friday with one main discussion topic: how to survive as Muslim Americans under the Trump administration.
Community members were able to ask legal questions, share their fears with one another, and hear from the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, who vowed to continue to protect the civil liberties of all Virginians, namely those singled out by the Trump administration.
This week, two federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland struck down major provisions in the second iteration of Trump’s executive order, which in part restricts travel by immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries. The original order, issued in January, caused chaos for travelers coming through international airports with U.S. citizens and legal immigrants held for hours.
On Trump’s behest, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday that it would appeal the Maryland decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, likely before a three-judge panel based in Richmond, Virginia.
Hoping to address some confusion and concern surrounding the Muslim ban and various court rulings, organizers and lawyers with two Muslim advocacy groups, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and MAS-PACE, took questions from community members gathered before Herring spoke at a town hall meeting.
One female green card holder nervously asked whether the Muslim ban would prevent her from sponsoring her Syrian parents to legally immigrate to the United States. Organizers told her that her parents are still eligible because the ban wasn’t in place, but that she should retain a lawyer.
Another woman lamented that the “terrorist” label has only been unfairly ascribed to the Muslim and foreign population, an interesting insight given that right-wing extremists, rather than foreigners, commit more terror attacks in the United States.
CAIR representatives repeatedly cautioned Muslims that they should expect to face extra scrutiny by the U.S. government when they apply for immigration benefits like green cards or student visas.
“Short answer, you should be concerned,” CAIR co-counsel Gadeir Abbas told the crowd. “If you’re a Muslim applying for an immigration benefit, you should be extra concerned. If you’re a Muslim from one of the six affected countries, you should really be concerned. That’s the truth of it.”
But Abbas also pointed out that this is hardly the first time the Muslim community has had to deal with an immigration system that historically discriminates against them. As an example, he pointed to their inclusion on the long list of Americans whose names remain on the terror watch list.
“The Muslim community’s first problem with the immigration system did not arise on January 27 when the [original] executive order was issued,” Abbas said. “ There’s been a longstanding and well-founded reality that Muslims are treated unfairly in the immigration system.”
“If you’re a Muslim applying for an immigration benefit, you should be extra concerned.”
Community members in attendance Friday included Emman, a family doctor whose practice is based in the Prince William County suburb of Gainesville. She is an American citizen of Egyptian descent, and while Egypt is not included on the list of six countries affected by the travel ban, the latest actions taken by the executive branch are cause for concern because Emman has U.S. citizen family members living abroad.
As a Muslim American, Emman, who asked to be identified by her first name, is well aware that looking a certain way — namely darker, taller, or even with an “Islamic name” — could give federal agents the green light to stop American citizens, an increasingly common occurrence.
“I worry because my nephews are overseas — they’re American citizens — but I want them to come visit me and they have very Islamic names and my worry is them coming through the airport and getting picked on,” she said. “They’re young, but they’re big guys so they look older.”
Emman also attended the town hall meeting ahead of Friday night prayers because she felt that the executive order was a good wake-up call for vulnerable communities like Muslims and immigrants to stand up to the Trump administration.
“The community is asleep and now that we’re being directly attacked,” she explained. “I’m hoping people wake up and support each other. Our religion is not about negativity — it’s about accepting people regardless of race.”
Marium, a 18-year-old events coordinator with the MAS Community Center, also attended the meeting because she wanted to know whether Trump could take away rights from her as an American. She also wanted to know how to respond to some of the rhetoric that she’s been seeing on her college campus.
“I feel like, now, words aren’t being filtered at all,” Marium said. “The whole ban itself has impacted the community a lot. People are fearful that they can’t see their families again. It’s very stressful.”
Later in the night, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring arrived as more people packed into the center for isha, the final daily prayer. Herring’s arrival at the cultural center took place hours after the Trump administration declared that it would take its fight over the Muslim ban to the Commonwealth, where opening briefs are due on April 26. A date for an oral arguments has not yet been set, but is expected to take place during the summer.
Herring spoke passionately about defending the rights of Muslim Americans and other minority communities.
“As attorney general, I’m here to defend and protect the rights and civil liberties of all Virginians, including minority communities, no matter what you look like, what your background is,” Herring told the big crowd. “We’ll continue to do that. From the first moment President Trump issued an executive order, I could see it for exactly what it was. I’m really proud that Virginia has been leading the fight against this ban.”
“This ban was rooted in religious bigotry.”
“This ban was rooted in religious bigotry,” Herring added. “When the government singles out for discrimination one group of people because of how they worship, it strikes at the very heart of who we are as Americans and it is wrong.”
The significance of the DOJ’s fight was not lost on Herring, who already reached out to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to talk over the legal implications of the appeals process.
“There’s a mountain of evidence to support the contention that the travel ban was rooted in religious bigotry and discrimination,” Herring later told reporters. “The president said that the second travel ban was just a ‘watered down’ version of the first. If the intention on the first one was illegal and unconstitutional, so was the second.”
“People of all faiths understand that an attack on one is an attack on all,” Herring said.