Reno-Tahoe immigrants, Muslims impacted by Trump’s executive order |

Reno-Tahoe immigrants, Muslims impacted by Trump’s executive order

Claire Cudahy
Wala Hijaz, Aseel Abdelaziz, and Shaima Hijaz hold signs while protesting President Donald Trump's executive order to ban travel to the United States for people from seven countries on Monday, Jan. 30, at Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama.
Albert Cesare / The Montgomery Advertiser via AP |

A week ago today President Trump signed an executive order keeping refugees from entering the country for 120 days and immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia— out for three months.

Protesters took to airports across America and lawsuits began to fly as hundreds were detained or denied entry into the country.

In a statement on Sunday, Trump asserted that this is not a “Muslim ban.”

“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border,” said Trump.

But for many Reno-Tahoe immigrants, it is difficult to reconcile Trump’s statement with the actions of the executive order — and there is growing anxiety over what the future might look like for them in America.


South Lake Tahoe resident Kamyar Samimi came to America from Iran when he was 9 months old. His parents were forced to flee the country after his father was imprisoned for supporting the overthrown leader Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

“We were able to find a way out to Turkey, which led us to the U.K., and over into the United States. That was our travel path — escaping Iran to a land that was known to be a land of freedom where everyone was accepted,” said Samimi.

Though Samimi now has duel citizenship and is not a practicing Muslim, he said he would not risk traveling anytime soon.

“It makes me sad just to see where our country is headed. We’ve taken leaps and bounds to welcome people from all nationalities, all ethnicities into our country, and now this,” expressed Samimi. “If anything, I think it’s starting to breed more hatred towards America because of this move.”

Though Samimi pointed to some instances of exclusion he experienced as an Iranian child growing up in Utah, he said it wasn’t until a recent chairlift ride at Heavenly Mountain Resort that he encountered true racism.

“He said that Muslims shouldn’t be in this world and that they are all evil, and anybody from the Middle East, they are bad people that just want to harm others,” recalled Samimi of the self-proclaimed Trump supporter. “I told him I was from Iran and then he got quiet and awkward. There wasn’t much communication for the rest of the lift ride.”

Sherif Elfass, president of the Northern Nevada Muslim Community Center Mosque in Reno, said he wishes that people with “inaccurate views” on Muslims would take the time to actually speak with one.

Elfass, who immigrated to Reno from Egypt over 20 years ago, recalled an encounter outside of Costco when a woman stopped to inquire if he and his wife, who wore a hijab, were Muslim.

“She said, ‘Well, how do you feel about the Quran telling you to kill me?’ … I told her, ‘I have been reading the Quran my whole life, and I have never come across anything that says I have to kill you,’” said Elfass.

“After three minutes of discussion, the lady understood that this is not the truth. Somebody was telling her false information, and she just believed it. I’m hoping that we can have these dialogues. We are no different than anybody else. I go to work. My daughter goes to school. My son plays soccer. We just have a normal life.”

Elfass, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Nevada, said that the travel restrictions have affected many students and staff members at the school as well.

“We have Iranian students who were supposed to be leaving to go see family, but they can’t. We have a graduate student from Sudan who just completed his master’s degree and is going onto a PhD degree … he can’t go back during this period or he will risk not being able to come back and finish his studies,” said Elfass.

UNR President Marc Johnson issued a statement on Monday saying the university is reviewing the situation, but recommended no one from the countries barred from travel leave the U.S. in the next 120 days.

“We encourage diversity of experience and perspectives and must continue to embrace this important aspect of our mission while providing a safe and welcoming environment for all students and employees,” he said.

Lake Tahoe Community College does not have any students impacted by the travel ban, but does have a faculty member from Iran with duel citizenship who has expressed great concern over the restrictions and how it will affect visiting family back in Iran.


Elfass said that from his point of view, the travel ban is not helping to make America safer; it’s making it easier for terrorists to recruit.

“This executive order is like some sort of announcement that this is a war with Islam, not a war with the terrorists. It’s like saying all the good Muslims are bad, too,” said Elfass.

Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham released a joint statement on Sunday voicing a similar opinion.

“We fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism,” they said, adding that the order “may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”

Just two days after the order was signed, six people were killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec, Canada — an incident that has forced Elfass’ mosque to increase its security.

“Now we have increased patrolling and more cameras and more measures so we can try and keep ourselves safe,” said Elfass.

Though one member of the mosque had someone try to remove her hijab while she was on a bus in Reno, Elfass said that overall the community has been supportive.

“In fact we have been receiving, almost on a daily basis, two to three support messages and notes coming through the mail,” said Elfass.

Elfass said he wants the public to know that the mosque is open to everyone if they would like to better understand what Islam is about.

“If anybody would like to speak with a Muslim, or would like a Muslim to come speak to their congregation, we are never offended by any question. If anyone would like a free copy of the Quran, we are not here to convert people, we would just like to have people understand the true message of Islam,” expressed Elfass.

“We should not be judged based on the actions of [a small percentage of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide]. The Muslims are peaceful people, at least the true Muslims are.”

Though the executive order has been criticized domestically as well as internationally (among others, UK Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her disapproval, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that refugees were welcome in Canada), the measure was praised by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.

“In light of attempts by jihadist groups to infiltrate fighters into refugee flows to the West, along with Europe’s tragic experience coping with this problem, the Trump administration’s executive order on refugees is a common-sense security measure to prevent terror attacks on the homeland,” he said in a statement.

“While accommodations should be made for green card holders and those who’ve assisted the U.S. armed forces, this is a useful temporary measure on seven nations of concern until we can verify who is entering the United States.”

However, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General announced Wednesday night that it would review the controversial executive order “in response to congressional requests and whistleblower and hotline complaints.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.