It’s been more than three years since Nedifo Halane, a refugee from Somalia, requested U.S. officials to allow her husband, daughter and son to live with her in her Phoenix home. Halane arrived in Phoenix in 2014 with her youngest son after spending six years in a refugee camp.
She is one of many Somali refugees in Arizona who are waiting to reunite with their family members due to increased restrictions to legal immigration, including a ban on immigration from countries like Somalia.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, shared Halane’s story during a House Judiciary Committee hearing considering a proposal to repeal the Trump administration’s travel restrictions that critics call the “Muslim ban.”
“Nedifo is watching her two older children grow up through Facebook pictures,” Stanton said. “Our nation should be built on an immigration system that doesn’t discriminate based on origin or religion. Families like Nedifo’s should be considered at the heart of our immigration policies, not be left behind by them.”
H.R. 2214, called the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act or the NO BAN Act, would limit the presidential authority to suspend or restrict foreign people from entering the US. It also prohibits religious discrimination in immigration-related decisions.
The proposal, which is co-sponsored by all five Arizona Democrats in the House, is a response to the so-called Muslim bans. Those travel restrictions were implemented in three different versions throughout 2017 and 2018. The latest one was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018. In January, the ban was expanded to include Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar.
Stanton said keeping Halane away from her children and husband doesn’t serve the country’s security interests.
“Arbitrarily keeping families like these separated does not make our country safer,” he said. “Instead, it causes undue hardship, stress, and trauma to families that have already experienced inconceivable circumstances and simply want to be together.”
After Stanton concluded his statement, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, pushed back.
“This has nothing to do with religion, this has to do with securing our country,” she said.
In his presidential campaign, Trump infamously called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
The NO BAN Act passed the House committee Wednesday.
Phoenix refugee advocate Muktar Sheik said families from Somalia have been waiting for decades in refugee camps for a second chance to rebuild their lives elsewhere.
“The Somalis who are trying to come here have been in refugee camps since 1995-96. They’ve been registered with the United Nations for almost 20-30 years, they are looking for homes,” he said. “There is no evidence to show refugees are a threat to America or are trying to bring harm to Americans. This has nothing to do with security, it’s very clear.”
In an interview with Arizona Mirror in April, Halene said she struggles to rebuild her life in the U.S. when she’s the sole breadwinner for her family. She also wishes her son was growing up with his dad and siblings.
“We would be a family and we would be complete, we would help each other,” she said. “And my youngest child, he would have someone to talk to instead of going to the babysitter.”