Aden Ali of Buffalo has a lot riding on the outcome of the presidential election. The Somali immigrant has a wife and two children in Kenya, awaiting clearance to join him here.
But Donald Trump says he wants to block Muslim refugees from entering the United States, and Ali, who is Muslim, worries about the possibility if Trump is elected president.
“If he wins the presidency, how are my wife and kids going to come to this country?” said Ali, who works as a machine operator at a local chocolate maker.
Ted Cruz, Trump’s main opponent in the New York GOP presidential primary election on Tuesday, called for increased police surveillance of Muslim communities across the country, an idea some Muslims consider even more loathsome.
It’s why Republicans are unlikely to find much support from Western New York’s large and growing Somalian community. “Ninety percent of us are Democrats,” said Ali Ahmed, who owns a Somali market on Grant Street.
Muslims more broadly in Western New York have gravitated heavily toward the Democratic Party, too.
“There’s definitely a real fear of, what is our future in this country?” said Mohammed Shariff, 20, of Clarence Center. “The stakes are high and the stakes are real.”
A prejudice against Muslims in American politics and policy that once was subtle and behind the scenes is now open and accepted within the GOP, added Shariff, a senior at the University at Buffalo,
“It’s no longer implicit, it’s explicit,” he said.
The political discourse around immigration and cultural diversity has gotten so charged that many Muslims don’t recognize the political party that once was a natural home for them, said Faizan Haq, who teaches at SUNY Buffalo State College and founded WNY Muslims, a website that covers Muslim issues.
“Their tendencies have always been toward the Republican Party, because of their conservative backgrounds,” said Haq.
In 2000, Muslim votes helped propel George W. Bush into the White House, with nearly three-quarters of Muslim voters in hotly contested Florida supporting Bush.
Many Muslims retrenched from the political process after Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and signed the Patriot Act into law.
But rhetoric coming from the Trump and Cruz campaigns may be bringing them back.
The rhetoric “has definitely been a catalyst” for more Muslims to mobilize politically, said Shariff, who has gone door to door campaigning on behalf of Bernie Sanders.
Among Muslims, there is substantial debate about whether to support Sanders or Hillary Clinton.
Shariff said he believes Sanders has been more consistent than Clinton on issues that affect Muslim Americans. Sanders, he said, voted no on the war in Iraq and on the Patriot Act, while as a New York senator, Clinton voted in favor of both.
“These are really things we can’t ignore,” he said.
Ali said he will cast a vote for Clinton, because he believes she will continue to improve the economy.
“We don’t know a lot about Bernie Sanders,” he added.
Ali arrived in the United States as a refugee 15 years ago and is now a naturalized citizen and eligible to vote.
Other Muslims said Trump and Cruz’s proposals were not in keeping with the American tradition of religious freedom, which is admired worldwide.
“They’re not supposed to watch for the religion. They’re supposed to watch for the criminal,” said Omar Hasan, a Somalian refugee who arrived in Buffalo via South Africa about three years ago. “How do they know this is a Muslim, this isn’t a Muslim?”
Ali said he was just as concerned about Cruz’s idea to have Muslims secretly watched by police.
“I’ve been in this country 15 years. I’ve never done anything wrong. I don’t support terrorists,” he said.
Taraq Khan immigrated from Kashmir in 1987 and built a successful ethnic market in Amherst, Super Bazaar, with his brother Afqan. They’re confident that the real will of the American people will shine through at election time and beyond.
The president “is not a king. It’s a democratic system,” said Afqan Khan. “We believe in the American system. So far, in the world, it is the best system.”
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