“I live in darkness. My family are my only light” Ismail Alghazali said Tuesday. “I want to see my son run up to me every day.” Alghazali, a U.S. citizen who works in a bodega in Brooklyn while his Yemeni wife and two young children are trapped in the U.S.-backed war in Yemen, was sharing just one of the heartbreaking stories that filled the first-ever Congressional hearing focused on Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.
At the hearing, conducted jointly by the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs subcommittees, Democratic members of the committee invited people impacted by the ban and experts like Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates. For their expert, Republicans invited Andrew Arthur, a resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”), an anti-immigrant hate group that’s tied to and has promoted countless white nationalist, as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
I wish I could say I was surprised, but at the very time of the hearing, Trump spoke before the United Nations parroting white nationalist talking points about rejecting “globalism.” This is who the GOP is today.
Arthur was there to defend Trump’s ban, arguing it was not a “Muslim ban,” rather it was simply about national security, not anti-Muslim bigotry. This is of course the same argument made by Trump and his supporters defending this measure.
It was poetic justice then that the member of Congress who called out CIS’s despicable history was Rep. Ilhan Omar, who would be banned from entering the United States today because she was born in Somalia, one of the countries on the current Muslim ban. Omar first reminded us that the genesis of this so called “travel ban” was Trump’s campaign promise calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering our country.
She then reminded Arthur—a former INS attorney, counsel to House Republican committees and immigration judge—that his organization has been designated a hate group by the SPLC for “its repeated circulation of white supremacist and anti-Semitic writers.” She added that the Washington Post has “rebuked the research” of CIS on terrorism and asked why she should take the views of his organization “seriously” given all that.
It’s a serious question, not easily answered. In fact, Arthur did not respond to that question. While he did denounce bigotry, there’s no escaping that the CIS was founded in 1985 by white supremacist John Tanton and has promoted in its newsletter articles by white nationalists like Jared Taylor who’s written that “Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears” and worked closed with the likes of Jason Richwine, who says white people are inherently intellectually superior to black people.
As Omar noted, The Washington Post rebuked CIS for claiming that 72 individuals on the Muslim ban were involved in terrorism. What’s worse is that it’s these falsehoods that are fed by CIS to Trump officials like Stephen Miller, who repeated that bogus “statistic” on national TV, earning him three Pinocchio’s from Washington Post fact checkers.
This hearing was in essence a microcosm of the competing values of the two parties. As the GOP invited a speaker from a hate group tied to white nationalism, Democratic members spoke of and heard from people who were suffering under the ban and slammed its “waiver” provision as a charade, with Rep. Gerald Nadler noting that only five percent of waivers had been granted.
“It hurts me so much that it’s now been more than a year since I’ve seen my family,” said Alghazali. “I do not have words to describe my love for my wife and my kids.” Alghazali then uttered the words that summed up the sentiment of so many others who are still separated from loved one because of Trump’s ban, “I hope we will be together again.”