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Cleveland Islamic community relieved after reversal of controversial Muslim travel ban

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Posted at 5:30 PM, Jan 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-21 19:04:56-05

CLEVELAND — Just hours into his presidency, President Joe Biden signed a number of executive orders, including one ending the controversial, so-called “Muslim ban”, which restricted travelers from several majority-Muslim countries.

“We're glad it happened and we think it's a good first step,” said Ziad Tayeh, president of the Islamic Center of Cleveland.

The original ban restricted travelers from several countries, initially those with majority-Muslim citizens. Those countries were Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump issued the travel ban just a week into his presidency, citing national security concerns.

It was a move many criticized as unfair and an unconstitutional attack on Muslims.

After a lengthy court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2018. By then, the list of countries affected by the ban were Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, and two countries that are not majority-Muslim -- North Korea and Venezuela.

Last January, the Trump administration added six new countries to its list of restricted countries -- Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania.

“I think it had its intended effect. It made the Muslim community feel marginalized and like we were the other. That we weren't part of this community,” Tayeh said.

Tayeh said while he was not personally affected by the travel ban, many in his community were.

“They feel as if they're being marginalized. They felt as if they were being subjugated and that they were made scapegoats to problems in this country that frankly, they're not to blame for,” Tayeh said.

In his reversal of the ban, President Biden said the previous executive orders and proclamations were “just plain wrong.”

In the ban’s place, the Biden administration said it will improve the screening of visitors by strengthening information sharing with foreign governments and other measures.

Case Western Reserve University law professor Jessie Hill said that includes individual consideration of visa applications, which President Biden ordered to resume processing.

“I think that those increased and more individualized vetting procedures are the type of things that critics of the Trump administration policy had long been saying, that that was the more appropriate thing to do, rather than having a ban that really looked like - to a lot of people - an Islamophobic and/or racist ban,” Hill said.

Tayeh said his community never lost hope that the ban would be rescinded, and even though travel is still restricted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reversal means the world to them.

“Symbolism matters, rhetoric matters, all that matters. So the fact that Biden has taken it upon himself to remove these restrictions helps us feel like we're part of this community,” Tayeh said. “That lets us know that we're valued members of this country, that we're contributing members of this country, and that the mindset that Donald Trump tried to instill in America, it didn’t work, that it failed.”

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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