Valencia resident Hanadi Couja was eagerly awaiting a visit from her Syrian mother, Mayad Khavvaz. Her visa interview was scheduled for Feb. 22 in Cairo and things were looking positive.
Then on Saturday, Khavvaz received a two-sentence text message from the American Embassy that consisted of less than 15 words.
“Your visa appointment has been cancelled,” the first sentence read.
There was no need for her to ask why. She knew.
Her interview was cancelled because of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning visitors from seven different Muslim countries, including Syria.
Devastated, she sent the text message to her daughter in Valencia to tell her they might not be seeing each other soon.
Khavvaz had already bought a plane ticket to travel to Cairo, Egypt for the interview since there is not an American Embassy in Syria. In fact, she has to take a taxi to Beirut, Lebanon in order to take a plane to Cairo.
And she is still committed to taking that trip in the hopes that her interview will be rescheduled.
Wishing to see her daughter, Khavvaz asked her to visit Syria if the visa does not work out. Although, Couja was unwilling to try because she is both a Syrian and American citizen. She is afraid she will not be let back in the country, despite the fact her husband and children live here.
Khavvaz and Couja are just two people of a great number who will not be seeing their family anytime soon due to President Trump’s executive order.
Couja’s husband, Monte Couja, feels betrayed by President Trump’s ban. He immigrated to America in 1989 and got an engineering degree from American colleges. His daughter has a 4.0 average at College of the Canyons and his son attends Albert Einstein Academy.
He feels Muslim immigrants like him are productive members of American society.
“A lot of engineers come from those seven countries,” he said.
This sentiment was echoed by other Muslims who live in SCV, such as Majub El Arabi.
“Today its Muslims, tomorrow it may be Christians,” he said.
He has a PhD in petroleum engineering and has lived in Newhall since 1990.
He believes the president should be able to understand his plight as an immigrant because he is from an immigrant family himself.
As an American, El Arabi understands the America first sentiment that President Trump is supporting but doesn’t believe in its implementation.
“Where do you draw the line?” he said.
People in Syria are fighting for basic necessities like water and electricity.
Couja believes when they immigrate to America, they are not spreading the terrorism that people wrongly associate with his religion. They are moving here just to survive and be productive members of society.
He explains terrorism is in conflict with Muslim values, such as justice and freedom.
In fact, Couja says the founding fathers of America must have read the Quran when drafting the constitution. Muslim ideals and American ideals are very much in line with each other.
Nonetheless, there are American citizens in SCV, such as Marie Rossiter, who feel the executive order is necessary to keep the United States secure.
“I think we need to really vet everyone that is coming into this country,” she said.
She emigrated from Guatemala in the 1970’s to escape economic oppression.
She says times have changed since 9/11 and the world is not as safe as it was when she emigrated.
If it was up to her, she says she would close all the borders until the American people were well taken care of.
Moreover, some religious officials in SCV are still unsure where to stand on the issue.
Senior Executive Pastor Fred Gray of Real Life Church says his church is inclusive to everyone.
When asked if the president’s executive order is in conflict with Christian ideals such as inclusiveness, he said, “Yeah, probably.”
He still understands that the country needs to be secure, and will support the decisions his country makes.
Nonetheless, he says the ideal scenario would be to have both a secure country and an inclusive country.
“I would just like to believe there are not mutually exclusive,” he said.
If that can be accomplished, then Syrian refugees in SCV might be able to see their family again, such as 15-year-old Saugus High School student Zina Shakrouf.
She escaped the tyranny in Syria with her mother and sister 16 months ago.
Although, her father is a Syrian citizen who is supporting the family all the way from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Shakrouf and her mother are unsure if they will ever be able to see him again with the ban in place.
“As a teenager it’s so scary thinking about how your family is so far away,” said Shakrouf with her mother’s arm wrapped tightly around her.
Editor’s Note: Majub El Arabi’s profession has been corrected to show that he has a PhD in petroleum engineering. Couja’s beliefs have also been corrected to show he believes that people wrongly associate Islam with terrorism.