Khartoum, Sudan (CNN)
“Are you watching the news, Sara?”
“Yes, Ummi. How are you guys doing?”
“Okay, just frustrated.”
It’s hard to translate my mother’s words. The Arabic word is more than just frustration – it’s closer to dejection. Since Trump signed his Executive Order banning green card and visa holders from Sudan from entering the United States, it’s been difficult for me to call my family.
I don’t have the words to comfort my parents, permanent US residents now effectively trapped in the country. My father has not been back to see his family in Sudan in almost a year; for my mother, it’s been two years.
I don’t know what this will mean for my brother, whose wife and children have been in Europe for the last 2 years awaiting her green card.
I scroll through media reports and read about permanent residents being handcuffed and interrogated at airports across the country. I devour photos and videos of families devastated at the news that their loved ones were sent back, while others are “reunited” after ten and twelve hours of detention and scrutiny, tears of relief streaming down their faces.
Here in Khartoum, relief is short lived. Two weeks ago, Sudanese people breathed a collective sigh as US-imposed sanctions were eased, thanks to an Executive Order signed by President Obama.
Today, the ban on travel to the US is a disappointment — but to be fair, we’re used to it. It has never been easy for Sudanese nationals to gain access to America. In 2005, before he was granted permanent residence, my father applied for a US visa to attend my college graduation.
At the time, he was the director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa. The visa officer denied him on the spot, claiming that she was not convinced that he had “enough reason” to come back.
Only after appeals was the rejection reversed and he was allowed to travel. This is the case for so many others, months of planning for a three minute interview that leads to rejection because your job, your family and your life are all not enough to make you eligible for a visit.
My friends tell me, “But you have a passport, so you’ll be okay.” But what makes me any different from the scores of immigrants that have been denied entry to their home in the last three days?
Trump’s executive order has shown that if my family’s legal status can be revoked overnight based purely on their country of origin, then my passport might as well just be a cute navy blue notebook.
But to be fair, I’m used to it. Since 9/11, US Customs and Border Protection has done an excellent job of showing me and people like me that we’re not considered real Americans.
“Random” searches and lengthy questioning have been a part of my reality for the last 16 years, eliciting a Pavlovian response of fear every time I come back.
On one such occasion, a customs officer searched my bags and questioned me — a US citizen by birth — about my reasons for traveling to the US. “Who are you coming to visit?” he asked, then seemed upset when I laughed and said I was coming home.
He then asked me about my family, focusing on my two brothers, asking about one and then the other, then back to the first — “Where did you say your other brother lived?” — clearly expecting me to falter or provide different answers. Thirty minutes later, I was allowed to finally gather my belongings and go, frustrated and humiliated by the experience.
Trump’s selective ban doesn’t strike fear in my heart because it is new — but rather because it sets a dangerous precedent. Under the injustice and humiliation, I have always felt comfort that my right to be and feel American were protected by law and constitution.
But this new presidential decision leaves us – Americans of unwanted descent — exposed to a world of ugly possibilities, and an uncertain future for our families.
In a message to our group chat, my mother sends us words of encouragement. “I am sure that things are going to get better,” she says. “Remember, this is the melting pot, the land of democracy. It will always be.”