The ‘Muslim Ban’ Is Over. The Harm Lives On.


In the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, the United States welcomed just 11,814 refugees, compared with 85,000 in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, and the lowest since the modern U.S. resettlement scheme was created in 1980.

Opinion Debate
What should the Biden administration and a Democratic-controlled Congress prioritize?

  • Ezra Klein, Opinion columnist, argues that Biden and the Democrats must act boldly, and clearly, to help Americans in need: “You don’t get re-elected for things voters don’t know you did.”
  • Claudia Sahm, an economist, writes that Biden’s stimulus plans should be open-ended and that Americans “deserve the peace of mind of knowing that relief will continue as long as they need it.”
  • Ross Douthat, Opinion columnist, argues that rather than desiring large-scale change from President Biden, “a meaningful majority of Americans may be satisfied with recovery, normalcy, a phase of decadence that feels depressing but not dire.”
  • Adam Jentleson writes that the president and Senate Democrats must do away with the filibuster or risk endless gridlock: “We can’t afford for the Senate to remain the place where good ideas go to die.”
  • Times Readers shared their hopes for the next four years and the Biden administration.

When I traveled to Dadaab in June 2019, the pall cast by Mr. Trump’s refugee policies was inescapable. Everywhere I went, people told me how they or their loved ones had given up on ever being resettled. They were either steeling themselves to spend the rest of their lives in Dadaab or weighing the possibility of going back to Somalia.

“Since Trump, resettlement is over,” Elias Ndonga, the principal at Mr. Ahmed’s school, told me. “The refugees have nowhere to go now. No resettlement, no work.”

In the Kakuma refugee camp near Kenya’s western border, which houses roughly a quarter of a million mainly South Sudanese refugees, nine refugees took their own lives in 16 months after the travel ban. The spate of suicides so unnerved aid workers there that they reportedly began confiscating wire, battery acid and other potentially deadly objects.

With the link to the United States all but severed, the few alternative routes out of refugee camps like Kakuma and Dadaab became even more important. For Mr. Ahmad, the Trump ban meant striving for an academic scholarship to study in Canada.

People who knew him said Mr. Ahmed worked feverishly in pursuit of his goal. His parents had returned to Somalia but he had stayed behind in the camp to repeat his final year of high school to better his exam score. The year before, Mr. Ahmed had scored poorly on the national high school exam, far below his expectations. He lived alone and dedicated nearly every waking hour to his studies.

Mr. Ndonga, the principal, said that Mr. Ahmed often reported to school as early as 5:30 a.m. and didn’t leave until late in the evening. Ramadan Ibrahim, a business manager at the school, told me, “Most of the time, he talked about resettlement, about leaving the camp for a better life.” When a Canadian scholarship did not materialize, Mr. Ahmed ended his life, speaking of falling short of his aspirations in a suicide note.

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