March 7, 2017 at 5:12 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Revised travel ban allows Kurdish activist to travel to U.S.

Ayaz Shalal, gay news, Washington Blade

Ayaz Shalal, on right, a human rights activist from Kurdistan who advocates for LGBT and women’s rights, is now able to attend a Human Rights Campaign summit in D.C. in April because Iraq is no longer included in President Trump’s travel ban. (Photo courtesy of Ayaz Shalal)

A human rights activist from Kurdistan can now travel to the U.S. to attend a Human Rights Campaign conference next month after President Trump signed a revised executive order that allows Iraqi citizens to enter the country.

The original executive order that Trump signed on Jan. 27 banned citizens from Iraq and six other predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya — from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

Ayaz Shalal, who is the deputy director of programs for the Rasan Organization, a human rights organization that is based in the city of Sulaymaniyah in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, noted in an op-ed the Washington Blade published on Feb. 1 that he has traveled to the U.S. seven times and there is “absolutely no reason to prevent me from entering” the country. Shalal on Tuesday said he and his friends in Sulaymaniyah celebrated the Trump administration’s decision to remove Iraq from the list of countries that fall under the travel ban.

“This order was historic for both countries,” he told the Blade. “Iraqis can now visit the U.S. and that means I can attend the (HRC) summit.”

Shalal is among those who were invited to attend HRC’s Global Innovative Advocacy Summit that will take place in D.C. from April 3-8.

“We are happy that this Iraqi human rights advocate can attend HRC’s Global Innovative Advocacy Summit in April,” HRC Senior Global Programs Officer Jay Gilliam told the Blade on Monday in a statement. “This will give him a well-deserved opportunity to be a part of 30 leaders sharing their innovative approaches to the challenging LGBTQ equality work happening around the world.”

Sessions: Travel ban ‘protects the American people’

The executive order that Trump signed on Jan. 27 suspended the U.S. Refugees Admission Program for 120 days and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from entering the country. It also reduced the number of refugees who will be allowed to resettle in the U.S. during fiscal year 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000 and prioritized the resettlement of those who fled “a well-founded fear of persecution” based on their religion.

Trump on Jan. 25 signed a second executive order that spurs construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop undocumented migrants from Central America and drugs from entering the country. Both mandates sparked widespread outrage among immigrant rights advocates and their supporters.

A three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last month upheld a federal judge’s panel that blocked the travel ban.

The revised executive order that Trump signed on Monday does not include the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. and preferential treatment for those who flee religious persecution. It also exempts those who are permanent U.S. residents or have valid visas to enter the country.

“It is the president’s solemn duty to protect the American people,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Monday at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown D.C. after Trump signed the revised executive order. “With this order, President Trump is exercising his rightful authority to keep our people safe.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions noted during the same press conference at which Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also spoke that the FBI has placed more than 300 people who entered the U.S. as refugees under investigation “for potential terrorism-related activities.”

“Like every nation, the United States has the right to control who enters our country and to keep out those who would do us harm,” said Sessions. “This executive order protects the American people — as well as lawful permanent residents — by putting in place an enhanced screening and vetting process for visitors from six nations.”

The 19 men who carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were citizens of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Egypt, which are not included in the revised executive order. The gunman who pledged his allegiance to the so-called Islamic State from inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where he killed 49 people on June 11, 2016, was born in New York City to Afghan parents.

“Yet while today’s executive order removes its effects on Iraqis, there are countless other LGBTQ advocates, immigrants and refugees from Muslim countries whose lives continue to be put in jeopardy because of the Trump administration’s policies,” Gilliam told the Blade.

Shalal on Tuesday said he and his friends in Sulaymaniyah also hope Trump “will change some of the other decisions he has made.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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