Travel Ban Effects Felt Far And Wide As Shared By Syrian Musician, A Frequent Visitor To City

CLAREMONT, NH--It is not often that national news has an immediate connection to us here in Claremont, with people we know appearing across the news as the face of a worldwide hot topic, but that is exactly what happened last week with the issuance of a presidential executive order banning people from seven Middle Eastern countries.

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Kinan Azmeh, a Syrian clarinetist based in New York City, was featured in coverage by NPR and Rolling Stone Magazine, among others, about those impacted by the order. Azmeh is an advisor, performer, and guest educator for the West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts (WCCMA). Locals may remember him as the composer of the “Concerto for Flute and String Orchestra” that was commissioned in 2014 by the City of Claremontʼs 250th Celebration Committee.

This July, Azmeh is scheduled to perform both in Claremont as part of WCCMAʼs 10th Anniversary Season, as well as during the Summer Concert Series put on by Saint-Gaudens Memorial at Saint-Gaudens National Park. Azmeh now has a tradition of traveling to Claremont a few times per year, where his interaction has included lectures and master classes at both WCCMA and the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon, NH, and residencies at Dartmouth College. He first visited New Hampshire through the “Playing for Peace” program at Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music in Nelson, NH, and the state has held a special place in his life ever since.

“It was in New Hampshire back in 1992 at the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music where I decided to become a professional musician, it was the place where I played chamber music for the first time, and the first place in which I improvised,” said Azmeh in an interview for the e-Ticker News. “This connection with New Hampshire continued through both the Apple Hill Center, as I am now a visiting faculty member every summer, but also my connection with New Hampshire took even a deeper dimension seven years ago when I became a frequent visiting performer in Claremont. This led to a commission by New Hampshire-based flutist Melissa Richmond for a flute concerto for the 250th anniversary of the city of Claremont which I wrote in 2014,” Azmeh shared.

During his summer visits he can be seen around Claremont, often grabbing a sandwich at Stone Arch Bakery for his trip on Amtrak, or enjoying dinner with friends at the Common Man restaurant. Azmeh has now been a resident in New York City for 16 years and considers the US his home. He holds a EB-1 "alien with extraordinary abilities" visa, as well as a green card. He graduated from the Juilliard School, and now tours the world, including as a member of Yo-Yo Maʼs Silk Road ensemble. After giving a special performance with Ma in Germany, Azmeh flew to Beruit and upon arrival began to learn the details of the order. Even when he was set to depart on Thursday to return to the US, he was unsure if he would be able to enter the country, and he was hearing conflicting reports, despite hearing from professionals and friends in the immigration field.

“Friends of mine, for example, tried to fly back from Abu Dhabi to the U.S. on a direct flight and they did let them in. But other people I know were not allowed to take a plane into another city,” Azmeh said.

When we spoke with Azmeh on Friday, he reported that he was safely back in New York City, and he expressed gratitude to everyone who was checking in with him and sending good wishes. For the moment things seem settled for him, but many others were not so lucky. Although the banʼs block on legal permanent residents from those seven countries with green cards was walked back on the day after the executive order was issued, the reality of reaching home for green card holders abroad was far less than certain for most of the week.

In the last few days the State Department claimed that 60,000 visas were revoked, and one lawsuit cited 100,000. As the days passed, it became clear what the impact on a staggering number of people was. Families were separated, students in prestigious US programs that were visiting family over winter break were blocked from returning to their programs, and small children were stranded. These people remain stuck, panicked that they arenʼt able to go home, with insufficient money to stay in an unfamiliar country.

Proponents of the order have suggested that the order was focused on the safety of our borders, but the administration has been short on actual evidence to support that this will make an impact, say many security and intelligence experts.

Others have said the travel ban will make the US less safe. No attacks on American soil have been carried out by people from those seven countries. Given the existing vetting practice that is extensive and can take years, the overwhelming tendency for US refugees to be women and children, and the unpredictable placement locations that refugees receive, gaining entry to the US through the refugee program would be among the most difficult ways for someone hostile to the US to get into the country, said a number of security and intelligence analysts over the weekend.

On Friday a federal judge from Seattle issued an order halting the enforcement of the executive order. The federal order applies nationwide, and will apply to thousands of people holding legal visas for US travel. The order has been largely believed to be unconstitutional, and several attorneys general have issued statements about the order. Last week, NH Attorney General Joseph Foster released a statement saying, “Over the weekend, multiple federal courts ordered a stay of the administration's executive order. I support those decisions and will join with other state attorneys general around the nation who share a similar commitment to defend our constitutional rights.”

Several other rulings were also made this past week, focused on more areas of the order, particularly addressing the detainment of travelers. As of publication time, the State Department had filed a notice attempting to appeal the Seattle judgeʼs decision, and early on Sunday, it was reported that a federal appeals court denied that appeal. Many believe the case will end up before the Supreme Court.


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