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Cleveland business executives say immigration ban led to de facto hiring freeze

Posted at 8:18 PM, Feb 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-12 20:18:44-05

Cleveland father and son Mahmoud and Afif Ghannoum built a research and technology empire from scratch but their beginning was much more difficult than the average entrepreneurs. 

The Ghannoums are refugees from Kuwait, forced from their home in 1990 when Iraq invaded their country. 

Their tale of escape involved many close calls, a trip across the Middle East in an abandoned Pepsi truck and luck. Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum said his eventual arrival in the United States was thanks to the kindness of others. 

Dr. Ghannoum joined the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1996. His son earned his law degree at CWRU and together the pair founded several multi-million dollar companies that directly and indirectly employ hundreds of people in Northeast Ohio.   

Both are named inventors on several biotechnology patents around the world. 

Their companies include ArMS Pharmaceutical, which is in Phase II of FDA approval for the first resistance free drug to prevent influenza. Oasis Consumer Healthcare manufactures drugstore products and PathoBiome offers full spectrum microbiome genetic sequencing.

“This country’s done nothing but bring us unbelievable opportunities,” Afif Ghannoum explained.

In 2011, the company even decided to bring their manufacturing home to Cleveland from Mexico. 

 

"As a practical situation, it made sense for us to bring it all here to Northeast Ohio," he said. 

The group was in the middle of scouting scientists for a specialized genetic sequencing project when President Trump’s immigration ban was put in effect. 

“We’ve been scouring on a global level to find the best genetic scientists to join our teams,” Afif Ghannoum explained. “Sometimes, because we’re in a global economy, the best people are somewhere else in the world.”

So the ban led to a de facto hiring freeze, he said. Despite the legal order to halt the executive order for the time being, the company still has concerns that other countries could soon be lumped in. 

“Now, not only do we have to no longer consider someone from the seven banned countries,” Afif Ghannoum explained. “There is an enormous cloud of uncertainty regarding anyone else from other potential problematic countries, and frankly anyone we would consider who is Muslim.”

Both father and son said they are optimistic that a solution can be worked out. 

Their concerns were echoed loudly by Silicon Valley leaders who filed a legal brief claiming the ban inflicts “significant harm on American business.” 

President Trump has not directly responded to those claims. He said  

“Just cannot  believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” Trump said in a Tweet after the stay was put in place. “If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” 

 Dr. Ghannoum said he is still optimistic about the future. 

 

“Even though it is horrific , I know I still believe in the american values,” he said. “I still believe in this and I really believe that this is a transient time. It’s gonna go and America will be great like always it is.”