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Refugee Order Stuns Syrian American Community

Jan 31, 2017

The Tampa Bay region has a thriving Syrian American community that is in shock after President Trump signed an executive order suspending, indefinitely the acceptance of Syrian refugees.

Born in Damascus, Samar Hennawi moved to the United States with her family in 1984 when she was 17. She said she became a U.S. citizen as soon as she was eligible. She talked with WUSF's Bobbie O'Brien.

On Being A U.S. Citizen

“When you leave your country and you are offered an opportunity to belong somewhere, to feel like part of the community, to feel like you are a person, you are a human being, somebody whose ideas are valued, whose economic contribution is valued, that’s the image of the United States as a beacon of democracy,” Hennawi said. “That’s what attracts people and that’s what attracted me.”

She was married here, raised a family and completed her education recently graduating with a Phd from the University of South Florida. Hennawi shared how recent events have impacted the Syrian American community.

The Executive Order On Refugees

“It sent shock waves through the community, literally. It’s not so much about banning the refugees. It’s all the rhetoric,” she said. “President Trump has been talking about a Muslim ban and total shutdown of Muslims when he was running for president.”

That rhetoric has not been forgotten by American Muslims even though the administration said the executive order is only temporary and not directed at a specific religion.

“They’re saying we want to protect our borders and that’s a valid argument. I’m not against protecting borders. Let me be clear, we are Americans. We go to American schools which mean mass shootings affect us. We want security. What affects you and your neighbor affects me as well,” Hennawi said. “We are concerned about terrorism ourselves.”

A Muslim Ban?

Hennawi said Muslims are skeptical when the Trump administration says it’s not a ban of their faith.

“They’re saying it’s not meant to be like that, but we heard the rhetoric and it sounds like a Muslim ban. If it’s not now, it’s coming ahead.”

She’s been a U.S. citizen for more than three decades, yet Hennawi said with the signing of that executive order, she’s felt less welcomed in her own country.

A Message For President Trump

Here’s her response when asked what she would say if she could talk with Trump directly.

“You were entrusted by your voters to take lead of this country. Focus on making this one country. Do not exclude any American. All Americans are Americans. And they all have the best interest of this country. They all want to see ‘America First.’ This divisive rhetoric, it is not going to make America great.”