MILTON, Ga. – Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of Council for American Islamic Relations – Georgia, makes it clear why last Saturday he chaired a “Know Your Rights” meeting at Hamizah Islamic Center in Milton.
CAIR is the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization. Its main focus is combatting anti-Muslim discrimination. But CAIR is also engaged in inter-faith dialogues, collaborating with law enforcement, lobby government officials and build coalitions with other civil rights organizations.
“The president’s executive orders on immigration are not about national safety. The executive orders are about keeping America racially, religiously and culturally monolithic,” Mitchell said. “Some of the people around the president have a problem with Muslims and other minorities.
“The executive order is a reflection of that. As a matter of principle we think it is wrong and that is why we are speaking out against it. We think it is wrong and motivated for unconstitutional reasons.”
Practically speaking, it has “wreaked havoc” on the local Muslim communities, and the Council of American-Islamic Relations is reaching out to them to explain what the travel bans on seven Muslim countries – Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen – means and how it may affect them or family members.
The executive order is in abeyance after a legal challenge has been upheld in court. But that can change if a new executive order, perhaps more carefully structured, is issued and is acceptable to the courts.
“Even people who are not directly affected by the ban have been thrown into chaos because they are not sure they can comfortably leave the country or not,” Mitchell said.
Anyone from the seven proscribed countries who has a green card, student visa or work visa – any status less than full citizenship – should not leave the United States at this time because the ban or one like it could strand them outside the country.
No ban against travel could apply to people with U.S. citizenship. Those who have family members overseas who have status but are not citizens and wish to come back should do so now while the order is suspended, Mitchell said.
“Meanwhile, I think every mosque should continue interfaith dialogue with their neighbors, open the doors up and welcome to learn what Muslims are all about,” Mitchell said. “Education is going to be the best vaccine against this sort of education.”
At the Hamizah Islamic Center, Mitchell and two Muslim attorneys covered a number of topics regarding safety and security for residents and their families.
The panel recommended Muslims should introduce themselves to their non-Muslim neighbors.
“Let them know what Islam is about,” Mitchell said. “Don’t be afraid to be a Muslim. Get off the sidelines and vote. You are part of the system. You have jobs and you pay taxes.”
Mitchell also recommended parents talk to their children about being bullied at public school – something every child will likely experience.
“We may win the battle but lose the war if our children are afraid to be Muslims,” he said.
Immigration attorney Hiba Ghalib told the residents gathered that in today’s climate, no one can afford to be ignorant of the law.
“We need to know our rights and responsibilities. We are Americans, and we must stand up for our rights and our neighbors’,” she said. “We must stand up for the Constitution. That’s why most of us are here.”
Ghalib spelled out the rights of travelers who are documented. These are especially hard times even for documented persons because of people fleeing so many wars while the United States is reducing the number of refugees it will allow by almost 50 percent.
Non-citizens who are registered resident aliens are given what is called a green card, which allows them to stay in the United States and to travel and return.
“If you have your green card, you cannot be prevented from returning, but you may be pressured to give up your status,” Ghalib said.
This happened to several green card holders who were taken off a plane and pressured to sign away their status.
“Immigration authorities don’t have the authority to force you to give up your green card,” she told the audience. “You should never voluntarily surrender you green card or give up your residency.”
She also warned that naturalized citizens were being stopped and questioned. But their rights cannot be abridged – nor can those with dual citizenship.
“They were trying to stop people coming back from the Caribbean to send to Syria.”
She also said there are reports of FBI agents canvassing immigrant neighborhoods doing “Community outreach.”
“The FBI doesn’t do community outreach. You should always be cooperative but stand up for yourself and you can always ask for a lawyer,” Ghalib said.
Locally, Ghalib said safety is everyone’s duty. If a crime is in progress call the police.
“We are Muslim Americans and proud about positively contributing to our country. It is our duty to do so.”
M. Khurram Baig, also an attorney, spoke about taking steps for personal security. He said that begins with making yourself known to your neighbors.
“We cannot afford to be unknown. We can’t hide. So know your neighbors. They look out for your security more than you do yourself,” Baig said.
He said engagement in the community is expected and it increases security at the same time.
“They see a lot of reaction to Muslims on TV. But do they really know a Muslim? Your neighbors have to know you.”
Muslims must be security conscious all the time. He noted the Quebec assault on a mosque. It can happen anywhere, he said.
Baig said any discussion about security brings up firearms. He was not recommending anyone buy a gun for their home. He did say if someone makes that choice to be sure to get the training to learn how to use it safely.
What Baig did recommend was personal defense classes. This is especially true for Muslim women. They are easily singled out because of their dress.
Everyone should have a fire evacuation plan for their home. When the house is on fire is no time to make a plan, he said.