By CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid
Americans currently stuck in Yemen due to armed conflict are receiving a bitter taste of what others faced approximately a decade ago. In 2005, several hundreds of America citizens, predominately African Americans, were stranded and left to die in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. One year later, the federal government repeated a similarly slow response in saving Americans, who were stuck in Lebanon due to an attack by Israel. Though the former was a natural disaster and the latter was a manmade one, the consequences between those two and what Americans in Yemen face today mirrors like sentiments from myself.
While America boasts about having the most powerful military in the history of humankind, the current administration has shown little interest in evacuating citizens from Yemen. Meanwhile a host of countries from China and Russia to India and Somalia have successfully rescued their citizens after the Saudi bombing campaign began. It is evident from the sheer lack of action by the federal government that it places a low premium on the lives of Americans of Yemeni descendent.
In the face of this latest act of discrimination by the federal government against Yemeni Americans, CAIR-MI recently filed a federal lawsuit against President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to compel the government to rescue Americans in Yemen. Within the past year, our office has filed a lawsuit against the administration for systematically placing law-abiding American Muslims on the suspected terror watchlist. A lawsuit was also filed against the State Department by CAIR-MI Staff Attorney Lena Masri to compel the department to recognize the citizenship rights of a Yemeni American with no criminal record who was denied a passport without justification. CAIR-MI successfully resolved the issue and a passport was issued.
Though racism is a problem which people of color face from private citizens, institutionalized racism coming from government entities runs rampant in 2015, from a slew of police killing and brutality cases focused on unarmed black and Latino civilians to situations like this which treat Yemeni Americans as de facto second class citizens.
While we seek legal remedies to challenge institutionalized racism, we fully know that racism cannot be solved alone by the courts. Hearts and minds have to change before policies plus behaviors are altered by government officials. If this latest issue of trauma affecting Yemeni Americans has taught us anything, it should be that it is incumbent in these days for American Muslims to become more involved in the broader racial justice movement.