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Trump’s Childhood Home is Now an Airbnb Where Refugees Slept Over to Protest Immigration Crackdown

StorySeptember 19, 2017
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This past weekend, a surprising gathering took place at President Trump’s childhood home in Queens, New York. The home is now an Airbnb. On Saturday, the international humanitarian and development organization Oxfam America rented out the home for refugees to spend the day there sharing their stories of home, resistance and life in the United States. This comes as The New York Times reports that President Trump is now considering whether to further reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States to fewer than 50,000. For more, we speak with Eiman Ali, a refugee whose family fled Somalia in the 1990s and eventually settled in the United States. She spent this weekend inside Trump’s childhood home in Queens. We also speak with Isra Chaker, the refugee campaign leader for Oxfam America.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We end today’s show by looking at a surprising gathering that just took place at President Trump’s childhood home in Queens, New York. The home is now an Airbnb. On Saturday, the international humanitarian development organization Oxfam America rented out the home for refugees to spend the day there sharing their stories of home, resistance and living in the United States. In this video released by Oxfam, we hear from four refugees who spent Saturday in that Trump childhood home: Eiman of Somalia, now resettled in North Carolina; Uyen of Vietnam, now resettled in California; Ghassan of Syria, now resettled in Maryland; and Abdi of Somalia, who is now resettled in Maine.

ABDI IFTIN: American dream, actually, to me, consists of liberty, independence, thinking peacefully.

EIMAN ALI: To me, the American dream is having a safe and stable home and being able to accomplish your goals and having those opportunities. And now it’s starting to feel threatened.

UYEN NGUYEN: There are so many parents—mom, dad—who are holding their kids across journeys, across all these different different countries and so forth, who are just trying to do the best for their children.

GHASSAN SHEHADEH: [translated] I am like any other person who has come here. Look at the person, what his life journey has been like. I direct a message to the leaders of the world. Help all the countries facing conflict. Help them establish stability.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Raleigh, North Carolina, to speak with one of the refugees in that video, who was in Donald Trump’s childhood home, now an Airbnb, Eiman Ali. Her family fled Somalia in the '90s, when she was born. They fled from Somalia to Yemen. They eventually left Yemen for Tunisia, before settling in the United States. And in Washington, D.C., we're joined by Isra Chaker, the refugee campaign leader for Oxfam America.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Isra, let’s begin with you. You’re with Oxfam. Talk about your—how did you even discover that Donald Trump’s childhood home is an Airbnb?

ISRA CHAKER: You know, we found it, that—we found that President Trump’s childhood home was on Airbnb, you know, just being—keeping up with current events and current news. And we knew immediately that we had to do something special with this opportunity in really bringing the stories and narratives of refugees to the forefront. This is a critical time right now for our country. This is the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Right now, three branches of our government are making critical decisions affecting refugees, you know, whether that’s the Trump administration, members of Congress and the Supreme Court, coming up, with the travel ban case. And, you know, with the U.N. General Assembly taking place across the river from the home, we knew that it was the perfect time to take advantage of this and really highlight the stories and the plights of these refugees. And we were able to find incredible partners that really brought that to life.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you tell us what you know of how it became an Airbnb? I assume Trump, the Trump family no longer owns it. And also, what does it rent for?

ISRA CHAKER: Oh, I know—all I know is that we rented it from a private owner. So, no, President Trump’s family does not own it. It is a private owner. And we rented it for $725 a night.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Eiman Ali, we see the images of the childhood home, and now there’s been a mat put out—I guess for your weekend—that said “refugees welcome.” Describe your experience there, and talk about your own history as a refugee, leaving Somalia, fleeing to Yemen, ultimately coming to the United States.

EIMAN ALI: Well, I came to the United States when I was three years old. So, for as far as I can remember, I’ve just been in the U.S. But my parents have told me so many stories about home, what it was like before the war. And they really miss it, and they have some really wonderful stories. But the stories during the war were not so happy. So, to know that they went through that and sacrificed so much getting us to the United States, it really is something that makes me feel very grateful.

And I really admire all the refugees that I met that weekend. It was fascinating to be in Donald Trump’s home and hear their stories. It was very inspiring. And even just having our things around the house, it was an interesting experience, for sure. Walking in, my first impression was that it looked just like what I would expect Donald Trump’s childhood home to look like. But yeah, walking around, it was just very interesting to see where he came from, where he started, and to reflect back on where I started.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, President Trump has often claimed that refugees and immigrants steal jobs from Americans. And, of course, today he’s addressing the United Nations. I’m wondering what your response is to his policies on refugees and immigrants, and what you would hope the world would know about the Trump administration.

EIMAN ALI: I think that it’s a common myth that we have very limited resources in this country. But we have a lot to give, both to the American people and to people who are coming in. So, I think that it’s really about compassion and reaching in and thinking about where these people are coming from and what they can accomplish here. Immigrants do provide a lot for this country and do provide opportunities for other Americans. So I think it’s just about doing research, finding out really what we have and where our priorities should be.

AMY GOODMAN: Isra Chaker, President Trump has already capped the number of refugees resettled annually in the United States at 50,000, which is less than half of the 110,000 refugees admitted under President Barack Obama. Last week, The New York Times reported Trump is considering whether to further reduce the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to fewer than 50,000. He has until October 1st to decide how many refugees the U.S. will admit over the next 12 months. Can you talk about this?

ISRA CHAKER: Yes, of course. You know, our message here for this action that we took at President Trump’s childhood home was simple: that all world leaders, especially President Trump, take this refugee crisis seriously and do their best to help support refugees here and abroad.

As you mentioned, yes, the presidential determination, that he will be making and announcing in the next couple of weeks, is determining how many refugees will be admitted over the next 12 months here in the U.S. We, as Oxfam, have been asking for at least 75,000 refugees admitted over the next 12 months, which is only a mere fraction of the millions of refugees right now around the world. More than 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, persecution and war. So, if you can imagine having the United States of America, a country built on these American values of compassion and generosity and welcoming those in need, a country built on immigrants and refugees, you know, only accepting less than 50,000, it’s just unacceptable. And we can’t stand for it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And is there any country, especially advanced country, in the world that you think has a more enlightened refugee policy and is doing the right thing?

ISRA CHAKER: I don’t want to get into details of other countries’ policies, especially on refugees, but I want to keep the focus here on the United States. You know, this stunt we—took place right here, across the river from the United Nations General Assembly, where our world leaders need to come together and make sure that this refugee crisis is a priority. You know, a year ago, world leaders came and promised, in a New York delegation on refugees and migrants, that they would do their best to support refugees. And since then, we’ve seen little to no progress.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Eiman, about President Trump’s visit to Minnesota, right outside Minneapolis, the airport. I think it was the day before Election Day, when then-candidate Trump attacked Somali immigrants, particularly the Somali community in Minnesota.

DONALD TRUMP: Here in Minnesota, you’ve seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state, without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world. Honestly, it’s hard to believe. It’s hard to believe. And everybody’s reading about the disaster taking place in Minnesota. Everybody’s reading about it. You don’t even have the right to talk about it. You don’t even know who’s coming in. You have no idea.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was President Trump—well, no, actually, that was Donald Trump right before Election Day, before he was elected. In August, there was an attack on the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, right near this airport, an explosive device thrown through the mosque’s office window around 5 a.m. as people were gathering for morning prayers. No one was injured, but the bombing damaged the office. Trump did not condemn the attack. And I wanted to ask our guest if you could talk about your response to his attack on Somalis, Eiman Ali?

EIMAN ALI: Well, when I first heard that, I felt very hurt. Usually, my Somali community hasn’t been too much under attack in the time that I’ve been here. I’ve heard about Muslims often or immigrants, but I never really heard about Somalis in particular. So, when I heard that, I was surprised, and I was hurt, because to know that just a little bit later he was elected to be president, it made me feel betrayed, in a sense, because my family has contributed so much to this country, and the other Somalis that I know that are part of my community have also contributed so much. So, it was hurtful. And I have family in Minnesota, as well, and it’s a thriving community.

I think that it’s just to create a division between communities. It’s to make people fearful. And that’s just been a pattern in this country and in many countries, where there is division created and fear fostered just to push a certain agenda. So, I think that people should research and find out more on their own what is actually going on in these communities and all the great things that’s coming out of it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Isra Chaker, we just have about 30 seconds left. What can individuals do who are concerned about supporting refugees? What kinds of actions can they take?

ISRA CHAKER: [inaudible] process is the most stringent in this country for anybody entering our country, so they actually go through the most vetting that anybody was to go through. So, honestly, the safest people coming to our country are refugees.

So what can you do? We need everyone in the American public to really stand up and speak out on behalf of refugees and tell our leaders, our Congress, our president, Donald Trump, that we need to support refugees here and abroad. We need to ask for him at least to admit 75,000 refugees over the next 12 months. So what you can do to learn more about that is go to OxfamAmerica.org and sign our petition.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Isra Chaker of Oxfam America and Eiman Ali, refugee who fled Somalia, spent Saturday in President Trump’s childhood home, which is now an Airbnb.

Juan González is going to be speaking in Newark and then in Kansas City. And I’ll be in Canada over next weekend.

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