For victims of San Bernardino terrorist attack, conflicting views about Trump policy in their name

Abraham Amanios’ younger brother Isaac was killed in 2015 when a husband and wife stormed into the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino and opened fire. 

The terrorist attack, which left 14 people dead, was cited by President Trump as one reason for his controversial travel restriction policy that temporarily bars refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations. 

Amanios, 74, wants to prevent terrorism, but he also identifies with many of the people barred under the new policy.  He came to the U.S. from Sudan in 1980, after having fled violence and political persecution in northern Ethiopia during the fight for secession by the modern-day nation of Eritrea. His brother Isaac, who had fought for Eritrean independence, sought asylum in the U.S. with his family in 2000. Isaac had worked in Sudan as an interpreter at a United States resettlement camp for refugees.

“The main reason that we even came here to this country, Eritreans, is because of the unstable Middle East,” Abraham Amanios said, adding that he saw the Trump policy as misguided.

“None of the people involved in terrorism or other things came from these countries,” Amanios said of those included in the ban. “None of them.”

The victims of the San Bernardino terror attack represented a cross-section of America.

They were Christian, Muslim and Jewish, both immigrants and people born in the United States. One woman who was killed came to the U.S. after fleeing religious persecution in Iran. Another had fled Vietnam as a child.

Their tragedy became fuel for Trump’s executive order, which has roiled airports around the nation over the last week.

Now, some of the attack’s victims and their families are asking themselves whether the ban is the right way to keep others from suffering, as they have, the devastation of a terrorist attack.    

Rep. Pete Aguilar, a Democrat whose congressional district includes San Bernardino, has strongly denounced the ban and Trump’s repeated mention of the terrorist attack as a motivation for it. 

The president’s “consistent exploitation of San Bernardino is both incorrect and shameful,” Aguilar said. “To use a tragedy in my community, a tragedy we’re still reeling from, as a political talking point is just despicable.”

Hal Houser, who witnessed the attack and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, said he voted for Trump and supports the order but was critical of how it was implemented. 

Full coverage: San Bernardino terror attack »

He said he did not agree with green card holders being banned from the country.

Since the order was announced, there have been mixed signals about whether it would apply to green card holders, or lawful permanent residents. On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said he deemed “the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest.”

Houser also said he was angered that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where the San Bernardino attackers had ties, were not on the list of countries affected by the travel ban. 

“I don’t know why he has rushed so quickly to implement this policy when it needed so much careful consideration,” he said. 

But Houser, 55, said it was unfair to call Trump’s executive order a Muslim ban.  

“One of my Muslim coworkers got shot. … I don’t want to have a Muslim ban, absolutely not,” he said. “My office was staffed by Muslims who love America — and Syed. This punctuates how Muslims can’t be broad-brushed,” he said, referring to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the attackers. 

Five days after the Dec. 2, 2015, attack, Trump initially proposed a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the country.

In recent days, his administration has repeatedly referred to San Bernardino, along with other recent terror attacks, as a motivation for the order approved last week, though the policy would not have affected its perpetrators.

Farook was born in the U.S. His wife, Tashfeen Malik, immigrated to the country from Pakistan on a K-1 fiancee visa and had lived in Saudi Arabia for a time. 

The executive order issued Friday suspends new refugee entries into the United States for 120 days and restricts for 90 days immigration from seven -Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also bars indefinitely the admission of Syrian refugees. 

Bennetta Betbadal, who was killed in the San Bernardino attack, fled to America from Iran to escape religious persecution of Christians, her family has said.

In a written statement provided to The Times by family friend Mark Russell, her husband, Arlen Verdehyou, said the family is “in full support of what is needed to make [and] keep America safe.”

Verdehyou said the president should be mindful of Christians, like his wife, looking to come to the U.S. from -Muslim-majority countries. Trump has said he intends to prioritize Christian refugees over others seeking to enter the United States.  

“We hope America [and] President Trump can do this without violating our core values; however, we also recognize that this is no small task,” Verdehyou said.

John Ramos, who was injured in the attack, said he’s still working to mentally recover from what happened that day at the Inland Regional Center.   

When Trump proposed a Muslim ban just days after the San Bernardino shootings, he didn’t hear about it.

“I had other things on my mind,” he said. At the time, he was still recovering from his injuries — it would take weeks for shattered asphalt to come out of his hands.  

On Friday, Ramos saw online that Trump had signed the immigration ban and he felt a “complete betrayal,” he said. 

Trump is wrong for assuming a ban will prevent violence, he said. While those seeking to enter the country should be vetted and screened, Ramos doesn’t see a need for more “extreme vetting.”

“The person who carried out [the Dec. 2] attack was born in the U.S. and only went overseas to get a wife,” Ramos, 58, said. “It’s ill-conceived.”

The way he sees it, Trump has used San Bernardino as fodder for a policy rooted in religious discrimination.

“I don’t think he cares about any terror victims. There’s so much confusion I don’t think they know what they’re doing,” he said.

“Basically, this is a religious test,” Ramos said. “And it’s wrong.”

Milka Amanios, the 20-year-old daughter of the late Isaac Amanios, has been following the news closely since the executive order was announced and has been angered by each mention of the attack that killed her father.

“It’s been egregious; it’s been ridiculous,” she said. “I don’t think people realize my family are refugees to begin with, so it’s disheartening to see the rhetoric that’s used. They love to use the San Bernardino attack as an example, but it was done by a U.S. citizen who killed a refugee.” 

Amanios, a finance student at the University of San Francisco, was a toddler when she and her father came to the U.S. from Eritrea on travel visas in 2000 to attend her mother’s graduation from nursing school. While they were here, she said, the political situation in her native country changed rapidly, and they sought asylum in this country.

Amanios became a U.S. citizen about four years ago, following in her father’s footsteps. She now worries whether her mother, a green card holder and longtime resident, will be able to do the same, and she said she feels for the refugees stuck in the crosshairs of the travel ban.

“This is not something you do for fun,” she said. “You can’t just hop across the ocean. You can’t just hop a fence somewhere. It takes many, many years. It’s a last resort. Nobody wants to leave their country of origin.” 

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