Government & Politics

President’s travel ban threatens even U.S. citizens’ plans to go abroad

Sudan-born U.S. citizen concerned the travel ban may affect his plans

John Gak, who originally came from South Sudan to the United States as a refugee in 1995 and became a citizen in 2001, is concerned about his upcoming travel back to South Sudan where he visits every year to do missionary work as a Christian due t
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John Gak, who originally came from South Sudan to the United States as a refugee in 1995 and became a citizen in 2001, is concerned about his upcoming travel back to South Sudan where he visits every year to do missionary work as a Christian due t

President Donald Trump’s selective travel ban has at least two U.S. citizens in the Kansas City area wondering how they fit into the controversial executive order.

Iran Amani lives in Overland Park and has plans — including $4,000 in nonrefundable airfare — to show off her 1-year-old son to family in Iran, where she was born.

Iran is one of seven nations whose citizens are banned from entering the United States for the next 90 days. The others are Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

“I’m a citizen, and I don’t know what’s going on,” Amani said Monday after the travel ban had been issued over the weekend. “Right now, they’re saying it has nothing to do with U.S. citizens, but while I’m there something may change.”

Her trip has been six months in the planning, and still Amani is unsure about going.

Staying home means losing the money she’s paid for airfare. It means her father, both of her grandmothers and her brother will not get to meet her son.

Amani said the ban also hurts for a more important reason.

“I live in a free country now, and I feel like maybe it’s not as free as I thought anymore,” she said.

Kansas City resident John Gak similarly wonders about his travel status.

He was born 50 years ago in Sudan, another of the Muslim-majority nations on the travel ban list. A lot has changed in that half-century.

Gak came to the United States as a refugee in 1995 and became a U.S. citizen in 2001. His homeland has seen continuing conflict, and he had fought in it. He has stayed away from the northern part of Sudan, against which he fought.

“I’m a Christian,” Gak said. “If I go, they may arrest me.”

But he has gone back to his birthplace. As a U.S. citizen, Gak has made at least one trip a year for many years. He set up a nonprofit organization and helped build a church and school.

His next visit, a 15-day stay, is set for late next month.

“Those projects need me to see what they need done in the next year or so,” Gak said.

Gak said he has gotten support for his work from the Swope Parkway Christian Church and looks forward to providing them pictures and updates on the work there.

The trip shouldn’t cause Gak any concerns. South Sudan, including the area where he was born, became a separate nation in 2011. His new U.S. passport even lists his nation of origin as South Sudan.

Still, Gak said he wants assurances that he’ll be able to return to Kansas City and his family.

“I will ask the immigration office or I can ask the South Sudan embassy in D.C. to make sure we are not affected by this,” he said.

Gak plans to ask because U.S. citizenship didn’t shield him from difficulty when he was returning to the United States in 2002. He was returning from a trip to Egypt, not Sudan. Officials in Amsterdam stopped him temporarily from boarding a return flight to the United States with other American citizens.

“They investigated me for no reason for 45 minutes,” Gak said. “We were allowed to go, but I was the one who was questioned.”

Gak said he convinced the Amsterdam officials by showing a letter he had received from then-U.S. Rep. Karen McCarthy and a work-related letter. It was not long after the Sept. 11 attacks and the only time his travel status had been questioned.

“That was the first time I feel like, ‘Why they do this?’ I’m a U.S. citizen,” Gak said.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, @mdkcstar

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