Plenty of small grocery stores in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood cater to the area’s heavily Latino population: corn tortillas and dried chilies abound on stands, while colorful piñatas hang from the ceiling. But the Spanish-speaking shop owners working behind the register often hail from another part of the world: Yemen.
Mogeeb Alomri’s family has owned Mi Ranchito Market for about 25 years. The U.S. citizen has spent so much time working at this store serving immigrants from Mexico and Central America that he feels more comfortable speaking Spanish than English.
“This business is basically all Latino,” Alomri says in Spanish.
Like other Yemeni-American shop owners in the area, Alomri strongly disagrees with President Donald Trump’s recent orders aimed at both stepping up deportations of undocumented immigrants and suspending the entry into the U.S. of travelers from Yemen and other Muslim-majority countries.
“It’s two problems we have. We worry a lot about people in Yemen and Latinos living here,” he says.
Alomri worries that long-term customers and friends could be swept up by new Department of Homeland Security guidelines that greatly expand the pool of undocumented immigrants who could be deported. Meanwhile, he says, a new travel ban from the administration could make it harder for his wife and four children, who are in the process of applying for U.S. visas, to leave war-torn Yemen to rejoin him here.
President Trump is expected to issue a new travel ban in the coming days, after the courts halted his original order suspending the entry into the U.S. of refugees worldwide and most people from seven Muslim-majority nations. Alomri expects Yemen will remain on the list of targeted countries in a new executive order.
“My kids probably won’t be able to come,” said Alomri, who has been a U.S. citizen for eight years, but now fears traveling to Yemen to visit family could cause him additional problems.
Down the street, store owner Abdul Taleb — who also has a U.S. passport — canceled his vacation plans to Mexico as he waits to learn the details of a new travel ban.
“A lot of people are postponing their travel,” says Taleb of other Yemeni-Americans. “They don’t want to go right now because there’s so much uncertainty of what’s going on.”
Taleb says flying for him was already a headache under the Obama administration. He has come to expect extra scrutiny by authorities at airports.
“As a U.S. citizen with a Middle Eastern or Muslim name, when you are going through airports you are going to be checked again and again, and that’s a routine we are used to,” said Taleb. “Now, I imagine with this administration it’s going to be harder.”
Taleb was relieved when the courts intervened to halt Trump’s original travel ban. But others believe the president has a lawful authority to suspend admissions into the country for national security purposes, and that the courts should not interfere.
“The president has the responsibility of ensuring that people coming into this country as visitors, as refugees or immigrants, that they are not people sent as operatives who would engage in terrorism,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonprofit that seeks to limit immigration.
“The basic premise of this entire order is that the administration is looking for a pause in admissions solely for reviewing current vetting procedures,” said Stein. “It’s not a character reference of anybody living in these countries. It’s simply a matter of trying to ensure public safety and the integrity of the reviewing process.”
Regardless of how a new travel ban affects people traveling to and from Yemen, Taleb says he worries more about the Latino immigrant community around him. He is organizing an event at his store to inform his clients and other immigrants about their rights.
“I know families that have been living in the U.S. for 20 years and still don’t have papers,” he said, adding that most Muslim immigrants he knows are lawful residents in the U.S. “Despite what’s going on towards the Muslim community, the Latino community is much more vulnerable than Muslims already here.”