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Trump travel ban: Pakistanis fear they're next

Brajesh Upadhyay, BBC

February 6th, 2017

 

 

Phone calls usually mean good business.
But since last Friday, when President Trump signed his Executive Order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, most of these calls have been to cancel tickets.
Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, is not on Mr Trump's list. But there is huge concern and anxiety in the community that its inclusion is imminent.
"At least 95% of my Green Card holding clients, who had booked their tickets to Pakistan months in advance, have cancelled it," says Mr Salman.
He is also getting frantic calls from those already in Pakistan trying to get the earliest possible return dates, even if that means paying stiff charges to change tickets.
Mr Trump's order stops the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely and further bans entry of all citizens from seven countries including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
A Customs and Border Protection statement clarifies that the current order doesn't apply to Green Card holders' entry to the United States, but there has been much confusion about the order, and reports of inconsistencies as to how it's being applied at airports.
The visa ban for this list is in place for 90 days, but administration officials have hinted that it will be reconsidered and possibly expanded to include other countries.
The uncertainty has prompted immigration lawyers to advise their Pakistani clients to cancel their travel plans for now and for those already in Pakistan to return immediately.
Immigration attorney Rafia Zakaria says Pakistani citizens who are legal permanent residents of US or hold other US non-immigrant visas must take seriously the possibility of an imminent ban on Pakistani citizens as well.
"The text of the order says that further review is taking place, and the outcome of that is not really known to anyone," she told the BBC.
She noted that White House spokesman Sean Spicer and White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus have both implied that the ban could be expanded.
She says if the ban is expanded, the legal challenges will take a long time to be ironed out.
Khizr Khan, a Pakistani-American lawyer attacked by Donald Trump spoke against the order in front of Congress on Thursday
Mr Trump presented his "extreme vetting" plan as a way to crack down on countries that could be a source of terrorism.
Anwar Iqbal, the Washington correspondent for Pakistan's leading English newspaper, Dawn, says this has further added to the community's anxiety.
"Pakistan has been on the top of this unspecified list for years and that's a reality we can't overlook," says Mr Iqbal, referring to the list of countries where terrorism is a major concern.
The San Bernardino attack of 2015, allegedly carried out by a couple of Pakistani origin, has been used to justify the president's executive order.
All this has meant sleepless nights for many of Mr Salman's clients.
He says one lives in the US with his wife and daughter, but has a mother in Pakistan who is very ill.
"I saw a 45-year-old man crying. If he doesn't go and something happens to his mother, he'll never be able to forgive himself," says Mr Salman.
"On the other hand, if he gets stuck in Pakistan there's nobody to look after his wife and child in the US, as he is the sole breadwinner."
This is also the time when many Pakistanis look for highly sought-after bargains combining pilgrimages to holy sites in Saudi Arabia with a trip to home.
The Bay family is reunited after Hamed Bay was separated from other passengers and questioned as a result of U.S. 
A family is reunited in Boston's Logan Airport after the father was questioned as a result of the executive order
"An excellent deal from Saudi Airlines for $895 (£710) came up last week but there are barely any takers," says Mr Salman.
Just about an hour's drive from his office is Brooklyn's Coney Island, home to thousands of Pakistani immigrants and aptly named Little Pakistan.
Thousands here were deported in the post-9/11 crackdown. Now the rumour mills are in overdrive again.
"We hear that it's going to be worse than 9/11 this time, and unlike then it will be irreversible," says Baza Roohi, who works as a tax consultant.
There are unsubstantiated talks of midnight raids on Pakistani-run businesses. People are scouring the internet and social media for information.
Ms Roohi says this is all most of her clients talk about, with even some US citizens fearing deportation.
"I know of at least one family that owns two houses, and has already put up one for sale," she says.
They want to make sure that if need be, they can leave in a hurry.
Baza Roohi
Image caption
Baza Roohi sees a high level of anxiety in her clients
"There are lots of rumours," a White House spokesperson admitted to the BBC. But he noted that US officials have no plans to add more countries to the ban, saying there's "nothing imminent that I'm aware of".
According to the spokesperson, the countries that are currently mentioned in the Executive Order had not been sharing the kind of information US officials need in order to process travel documents of its citizens. But he believed officials in other countries - such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon - were at this point providing the required information.
If that changes, he said, these or other countries could be added to the list.
Pakistan has been an important non-Nato ally for the United States in the war against terrorism, but the relationship has also been marked by mutual mistrust and acrimonious finger-pointing.
There are many in Congress now who favour putting a squeeze on Pakistan because of its alleged support to militant groups who harm US interests in the region.
There's also a feeling - expressed by the new Secretary of Defence James Mattis, during his confirmation hearing - that the US needs to stay engaged with the world's only nuclear-armed Islamic country.
Some experts point to this as a sign that Pakistan may not be included in the travel ban even if the list is expanded.
But for the community in New York, that's hardly reassuring.
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