Sulaika Abokor, a Somali-born elementary-school teacher in London, dreams of “a road trip from Seattle to California.” The 34-year-old was planning a vacation to Seattle this summer to see a friend who was recently married. She fell in love with the green, outdoorsy city when she last visited in 2010.
But, because of the Trump administration’s travel ban prohibiting most visitors from six predominantly Muslim countries, she now says, “That’s not going to happen.”
Contrary to recent reports of the United States being inundated with international travelers this year, with international arrivals and travel-related spending in the United States up in 2017 compared with the same period last year, a subset of travelers — British Muslims — is rethinking its plans. While no statistics in Britain are available, a significant number of British Muslims say they are eschewing United States travel in light of the ban, according to Muslim officials and anecdotal evidence from interviews in Britain.
“This concern is unlikely to be held just by a small minority of British Muslims,” said Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, the country’s largest Muslim organization. “Some British Muslims don’t want to go to the United States because of the hassle of traveling there.” There are concerns, he said, “because of the fears of what might happen when they travel or arrive there.”
Ms. Abokor is among them. Like me, Ms. Abokor is a British citizen who has a dual nationality; the other is from Somalia, one of the Muslim-majority countries singled out by the ban. For her, a trip to the United States is “no longer attractive.” She said she does not feel confident enough to try boarding a flight to Seattle.
“I don’t want to risk being turned away or having a hard time getting in,” Ms. Abokor said. “A place that does not want my people, then you don’t deserve my tourist money.”
Among my circle of friends and acquaintances in London’s Muslim scene, especially those of us who have dual citizenship, traveling to the United States is now fraught with uncertainty, fear and insult because of President Trump’s travel ban, which was partly revived in June after a Supreme Court ruling.
The temporary ban, which had been blocked for months by lower courts, has upended many lives, including those of vulnerable refugees from around the world. Some working professionals, like me in London, have had concrete plans to visit in the coming months. But we worry about taking the risk of being questioned for hours at a United States airport or, worse, being sent home. For some of us, America is no longer a welcoming destination.
Ms. Abokor said her United States travel plans came to an abrupt end following the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that the Trump administration could mostly enforce his original executive order issued one week into his presidency in January. She said the climate of traveling in the United States feels too disturbing.
The Supreme Court on July 19 temporarily upheld broad restrictions against refugees entering the United States but allowed grandparents and other relatives of American residents to come while legal challenges to the Trump administration’s travel ban move forward. .
I feel for Ms. Abokor. As a 32-year-old British-Somali journalist living in London, I found myself caught up in the travel ban chaos. When the ban went into effect in January, I was in New York City on a fellowship at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. I needed to fly back to London on Feb. 4 to visit family, but I wasn’t sure I would be allowed back into the United States because of my dual citizenship. I was intensely questioned by customs and immigration officials at Kennedy International Airport. (My passport stamps showed travel in recent years to Somalia, where I have family. I fled Somalia as a child refugee because of war, violence and famine, arriving in London at age 9. I later became a naturalized British citizen.)
At J.F.K., I was eventually allowed entry into the country. It probably helped that I carried a letter from Columbia University attesting to the fact that I was on a weeklong Dart Center Ochberg fellowship focusing on trauma and the reporting of violence, and that I also had the correct visa. Even so, when I returned to the United States in March, I was so worried about how I might be treated that I called friends so they would know where I was in case something happened to me.
“Traveling while Muslim” is the reality that many of us face these days. I hope to return this fall to the United States to see friends in New York, but I wonder whether I will be able to keep panic at bay when my plane lands and I must face customs and immigration officials. In those anxious moments, I am reduced to my ethno-religious origin. Not an individual, I am seen as just a Muslim — viewed only as being a possible threat.
Sadly, as fears of global terrorism have heightened, my experiences this year do not count as my worst. In May 2015, when I flew to New York to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday, I was taken aside at J.F.K. and told to sit down, then questioned by one official after another. It was a humiliating and terrifying experience. But this year’s travel ban, shutting out citizens from entire countries with Muslim majorities, has shaken me to my core.
What is especially disheartening to me and many of my Muslim friends is that our British-ness — our love of English breakfast tea with buttery biscuits, our obsession with soccer clubs (mine being the Arsenal club in North London), our British slang and mannerisms that lead our Somali parents, rolling their eyes, to call us “fish and chips,” not even our valid travel documents — protect us.