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Sudanese American Organizer Says Now Is a Time to Connect and Build Coalitions

Chicagoans from each of seven countries listed in President Trump’s travel ban explain how the executive order has changed their lives.

Hind Makki works as an interfaith educator at Dar Al-Hijra Center in Albany Park   Photo: Alyssa Schukar

Hind Makki, a second-generation Sudanese American, works as an interfaith educator and organizer for the Sudanese community at Dar Al-Hijra Center in Albany Park. In her 30s, she delivers workshops, trainings, and speeches in Chicago and around the country.

Tell us about the Dar Al-Hijra Center and what you do there.

This is a Sudanese resource center and they do events for the Sudanese community. For example, right now the Sudanese Embassy has consular services traveling all around the U.S., so they’re doing that here this week. Dar Al-Hijra Center hosts classes for youth, cultural events, and then for Friday prayer the space has a more diverse crowd outside the Sudanese community.

I’m an interfaith educator. My focus is making intersectional connections between race, power, and class in religious dialogue. Also, I work around anti-black racism in the Muslim community, challenging that, and improving women’s access to religious and sacred spaces in the Muslim communities.

Can you tell us how you have felt since Trump issued his travel ban?

A couple years ago, Trump said in his campaign that we would have a total and complete shutdown of Muslims. I remember his words were, a complete shutdown of a Muslim immigration until we can figure out what what’s going on. I always took him seriously—any threat that he made as a promise to his supporters. After he got elected, all the immigration lawyers and activists I know were talking to people in the community and saying anyone who has a green card should apply for citizenship now if you hadn’t already.

It was horrifying that as soon as he signed the Muslim Ban Executive Order, I started to receive requests from people who are saying, “Hey, my friend is stranded and not able to board a plane,” or someone saying, “What’s going to happen to people like to my father or my spouse?” I hear stories of people who are U.S. citizens who went home for the Christmas break and got married abroad with a spouse who had a legal visa to come here, and then that’s canceled. I don’t think that other Americans who have never gone through the immigration process realize how much it’s affecting legal immigrants here.

What is important to know about the refugee vetting system?

The refugees that come to the U.S. are not coming from a void. They’re coming from established refugee centers hosted by the U.N. and they’re vetted, re-vetted, and vetted again. The U.S. really takes just a drop in the ocean in terms of the number of refugees compared to a country like Sweden, for example. To say that refugees that come to the U.S. are not vetted properly is just factually incorrect.

In terms of refugees, they are vetted, and you can even look at the U.S. State Department’s website on what it is that the department does once they accept a refugee. Or, you can look on the U.N. High Council for Refugees website to see what they go through. Refugees from Syria are escaping the terrorism that we in America are so afraid of. These are regular civilians fleeing ISIS, Al Qaeda, and war.  They are fleeing as their lives are in danger because of terrorism. They don’t want to perpetrate terrorism here.

How long does it take to resettle as a refugee?

The time frame is regularly two years and it can take up to three years because people are asked about each person in a family, including underage children. They are asked about their history. They are asked to tell where they have lived. It’s really hard because oftentimes people leave and they don’t always have papers to say, “Oh, here’s the birth certificate of my child.” Each person in the family is crossvetted to see if your daughter’s story matches with your story, and if they’re able to they’ll ask other people in the area, “Do you know Sarah? Do you know Hind?”

The other piece of it too is that legal permanent residents and immigrants are choosing to come here not only because of economic or educational opportunity, but because this is the country in which they feel they can dissent. They can vote. There’s the idea that America is a place where anyone from anywhere has the right to live here, has the right to vote, and to be an active citizen.

For people affected by the executive order, who want to mount an opposition, what can they do now?

People have to connect with other groups. This is something that I’ve thought was really, really important for a very long time. In terms of coalition building, in terms of connecting with communities that maybe don’t intersect with each other, I think it’s really critical to realize how we are all now in the same pool. One executive order might affect certain people but taken as a whole, it’ll affect a large group of Americans.

It’s also so important to constantly be in communication with your elected officials, and this is especially for people who maybe feel like they’re not directly impacted by this particular executive order. If you are a U.S. citizen and you want to know what you can do to help immigrants and refugees, talk to your elected officials every single day.

Has the Trump administration initiated other, related policy changes that people should know about?

We have heard that the program that was once called “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, could be changed to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.” [Last week, White House spokesman Sean Spicer did not refute these rumors.] What that means is that the CVE, which had a lot of its own problems, at the very least included white nationalist and white supremacists. It is to catch people like the Canadian man who killed six at a mosque in Quebec. He is a white nationalist and these people are terrorists.  White nationalism or white supremacy has terrorized African-Americans and the indigenous people of this land since the beginning of this country, and [changes to CVE could mean] they’re not even included. Muslim communities across the country are afraid and are terrorized by these white nationalists.

How is the Sudanese community reacting to being put on this travel ban list?

For a long time Sudan has been under sanctions. Sudan and the U.S. have had very difficult relationships since 1989. It has thawed out considerably since the Comprehensive Peace Treaty was signed in 2005 [which was meant to end the Sudanese civil war], and then the referendum to split Sudan into two, with South Sudan becoming an independent country in 2011. After that, there has also been a lot of cooperation with the Sudanese government; the U.S. and other allied forces have been trying to stop the flow of terrorism in North Africa and East Africa. But there has always been the sense for Sudanese Americans that, you know, our two countries—there’s a Sudanese saying that fat and a flame make a fire.

A lot of the countries on the travel ban list have recently suffered or are currently mired in civil war. We’ve heard that they’re afraid they’ll be forced to return to dangerous conditions.

I think that for a lot of Americans they don’t know very much about the Middle East and North Africa. I think that they probably couldn’t place Sudan on a map, or Somalia, or Libya, or wherever, and they don’t really know what those cultures have provided to the world, what they’ve provided to America. I think that people have this sort of assumption that the “Muslim world” is this monolithic racial brown other. I don’t think that people are really aware of what it means to not live in a democracy and to live in a police state. None of these countries are really stable, except for maybe Iran, and even Iran has its own internal repression.

One thing I appreciate is that people now are learning more about these cultures. Earlier this week, WBEZ’s Worldview had a music program from the seven banned countries, which I thought was really great. The L.A. Times newspaper showcased where people can get food from the seven countries. Maybe people are starting to learn more about where these countries are. 

This interview was conducted on February 3 and has been edited for length and clarity. See interviews with Chicagoans from each of seven countries listed in President Trump’s travel ban here.

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