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Long Island

Refugee ban violates American values, some LI officials say

Barbara Gundrum with a picture of her with

Barbara Gundrum with a picture of her with her husband, Abdulelah Othman, on Jan. 28, 2017, at her home in Selden. Othman is a Yemeni citizen with a U.S. green card. He flew to Saudi Arabia to visit his ailing mother and woke up Saturday to find that he can't return home. Her son Matthew Acey, 25, keeps her company while she waits for news. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

This story was reported by Laura Blasey, Matthew Chayes, Joan Gralla and David Olson. It was written by Gralla.

The Trump administration’s ban on visas for non-U.S. citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries struck at the heart of a Selden woman.

Barbara Gundrum’s husband, Abdulelah Othman, a Yemeni citizen who had been living legally in the United States for more than a year, was visiting his ailing mother in Saudi Arabia.

When she heard news reports Saturday morning about the visa and refugee ban, she tried to reach Othman.

“I sat for a minute feeling numb,” Gundrum said. “We’re not a perfect couple but we love each other. My life is now on hold.”

Gundrum, 56, and Othman, 42, married five years ago after meeting at King Faisal Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Gundrum was working as a nurse.

Othman was supposed to call Gundrum on Saturday with his travel arrangements, but instead called to say he was barred from returning home because Yemen is among the seven countries whose citizens are blocked from entering the United States.

“I thought this can’t be happening here, not in this country,” Gundrum said tearfully. “This is his home, this is his house and his dogs and his wife.”

Others expressed a sense of betrayal over President Donald Trump’s decision to deny U.S. entry to some Muslims and refugees.

The Westbury-based Islamic Center of Long Island said it understood the “fear and confusion” about terrorism.

“We also cherish the ideals that made our country great. Tolerance, freedom of expression, association and religion,” the center said in a statement.

“Walling off our nation in an attempt to shut out terrorism is [as] naive as it is defeatist,” the statement said.

The potential for Trump’s executive order to backfire, perhaps by giving jihadi recruiters persuasive anti-American fodder, has been a persistent concern raised by terrorism experts.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said: “America is strongest abroad and safest at home when we project our core values represented by the Statue of Liberty.”

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Trump’s order violated fundamental American principles.

“Our character, as a city and as a nation, rests on how we treat those who need our help. Turning away or detaining refugees is inhumane. It’s heartbreaking. And it’s not who we are. It’s just plain wrong,” Stringer said in a statement.

Suozzi, speaking by telephone, noted many of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, which was not on the president’s list.

“The most basic American principle is that all men and women are created equal; it’s not all American men and women with green cards or passports are created equal,” he said.

Gillibrand and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who noted that his grandparents were immigrants, urged compassion.

“We must continue to embrace refugees in need who are victims of terror, not terrorists,” the mayor’s statement said.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) rejected the parallels refugee groups drew between the much-criticized U.S. refusal to accept Jews fleeing Europe before and during World War II and Trump’s executive order.

“The Jewish refugees who were fleeing Hitler . . . there was not the thought that any of them were going to be a threat to the United States,” he said by telephone.

He also said he thought immigrants who had helped the United States in Iraq who were denied entry at Kennedy and at other airports around the nation would be allowed in.

“No one wants to keep a legitimate refugee out of the country,” said King, adding detaining them for a short period allowed authorities to vet them.

However, Syrian immigrant Mohamed Riad Khawam, 65, president of the Darul Qur’an mosque in Bay Shore, said Trump’s order mars his plan to have family members in Damascus resettle in the United States if the security situation in the Syrian capital deteriorates.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Khawam said. “If things got worse, I wish I could bring them here, but now I can’t.”

Khawan said Trump’s indefinite moratorium on Syrian refugees entering the United States unfairly targets that country.

“Where did most of the terrorists comes from on 9/11?” he asked. “Saudi Arabia.”

But, Khawan said, Trump did not single out Saudi Arabia — probably, he said, because it’s a close U.S. ally with huge oil reserves.

“This has nothing to do with safety,” he said of the order.

Rizwan Iraqui, 36, of Dix Hills, a Muslim Indian immigrant who is a legal U.S. resident but not a citizen, said he plans to consult a lawyer before deciding whether to travel to India to visit his father, who he said is “extremely sick.”

India, a Hindu-majority country with a large Muslim minority, is not on the list of countries targeted by Trump.

But Iraqui’s U.S.-born wife, Melissa Iraqui, said: “Who’s to say [Trump] won’t say, ‘You know what, every Muslim in the country should get out and any Muslim from the country can’t come in.’ ”

Melissa Iraqui, 29, said she and her husband want their two sons, aged 1 and 3, who have never visited India, to meet their grandfather while he’s still alive.

“My biggest fear is we’re going to go over there and on our way back my husband won’t be allowed back in,” she said.

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