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‘We’ve seen a fundamental shift’: The local impact of evolving U.S. immigration policies

SLU soccer stand-out Saadiq Mohammed (at left) and local attorney Javad Khazaeli talked about how they’ve been impacted by recent shifts in U.S. policy.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
SLU soccer player and political science major Saadiq Mohammed (at left) and local attorney Javad Khazaeli talked about how they’ve been impacted by recent shifts in U.S. policy.";

St. Louis has been home to Saadiq Mohammed for about three years now – ever since he fled Somalia to seek safety and education in the United States. But along with college coursework and soccer at Saint Louis University these days, Mohammed has something else weighing on his mind on a daily basis: whether his request for asylum will be approved.

“It’s really tough,” he told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh during Monday’s show. “Every day I think about it a lot … When you wake up, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Mohammed, who depends on the kindness of a host family to afford school, still doesn’t have an answer since undergoing an interview many months ago as well as several background checks. And that uncertain situation is indicative of what’s going on at the federal level, according to local attorney Javad Khazaeli, who was also part of the conversation.

“I think the amount of uncertainty that’s out there that it’s causing, I think the best way to describe it is terror,” Khazaeli said. “We’ve seen a fundamental shift in how people are being treated.”

While the U.S. saw record numbers of deportations during the Obama administration, that was “a very targeted type of action” focused on cases involving violent criminals, gang members and convicted felons, Khazaeli added. Now that’s “very much changed” in his view.

“Right now the focus is on getting rid of people as quickly as possible, and what we’re seeing is, especially in the St. Louis community, there are large groups of people who have gone through immigration proceedings,” Khazaeli said, “and have been put on something called an order of supervision where every year they get background checks. And they’ve been here for years, legally allowed to work, and have just been deemed not a threat, contributing members of society, and allowed to stay here, hoping that immigration laws will change.”

That’s “totally flipped” under the Trump administration, he said.

Just a toddler in 1977 when his own family emigrated from Iran to the U.S., Khazaeli grew up in Edwardsville, Illinois. He and his family became permanent citizens and “the picture of assimilation,” as Khazaeli wrote in a New York Times opinion piece this past fall.

But in late 2016, when his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, executive action kept Khazaeli’s aunt, still based in Iran, from traveling to be with the family. Trump’s January 2017 order barred her and other residents of seven Muslim-majority countries from obtaining visas.

Khazaeli previously prosecuted terrorists under the George W. Bush administration and now works with clients including Mohammed to help them navigate the U.S.’s evolving immigration policies.

A couple years ago, Mohammed was featured along with one of his friends in “Men in the Arena,” a documentary about their journey to St. Louis from their war-torn home.

On Monday, Mohammed noted while his own and his friend's situations were and are very similar, their official statuses in the country are now very different. That feels arbitrary and surprising to Mohammed.

“I feel like we had the same case,” he said.

Related Event
What:Immigration: Frankenstein Law Tears Families Apart
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 12
Where: The Heights (8001 Dale Ave., Richmond Heights, MO 63117)

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.