Banned Together: Sudanese-American Cab Driver Says Travel Ban Means Fewer Fares | WBEZ
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Banned Together: Sudanese-American Cab Driver Says Travel Ban Means Fewer Fares

Malual M. Awak calls himself a refugee twice-over.

Awak, 49, fled civil war in his homeland of Sudan in 1987. He settled in Liberia, but a civil war there forced him into a refugee camp. In 1995, the United States granted him asylum and became a U.S. citizen in 2002. He now lives in north suburban Skokie, where he drives a cab.

“I was given a second chance, and I migrated to the United States,” Awak said. “I came to Chicago. And this is where i built my life.”

After years as a social worker, Awak now drives a cab in the northern suburbs. He said he switched careers to have more flexibility to care for his three young children. The arrangement: his wife drops them off at school, and he picks them up.

“If you ask me ‘are you typical American?’ Yes. ‘Are you typical Chicagoan?’ Why not? Because I love the Chicago Bears and I hate the Green Bay Packers, that’s Chicago!” he said.

But Awak said the area he now calls home changed when President Donald Trump announced the travel ban. He said fewer international travelers has put a serious dent in his business.

“When they announced the ban, that weekend, I didn’t go to the airport at all. So it’s just like you had a half-of-a-week (of income) loss,” Awak said. “After the court intervened there is a little flow but it’s not like what we’re accustomed to.”

Trump’s executive order to temporarily ban immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Sudan, was suspended last week by a federal judge An appeals court upheld the judge’s decision on Thursday. 

For Awak, the ban’s impact has gone far beyond the seven countries listed.

“Now on a daily basis (I’m) losing either 20 or 30 percent of (my) income because coming through the international terminal is so slow,” Awak said.
Awak said he makes between $150 to $200 per 12-hour day driving the cab. Now he said he is working up to 16 hours a day.

“Everything is connected with the business travel ... and when that one go down, then whatever you were going to spend on your family and your children go down.

Editor’s note: WBEZ spoke with Chicago-area residents from each of the seven countries named in President Donald Trump’s travel ban. They spoke about how the uncertainty is affecting their businesses, careers and students. Find all of their stories here.

Patrick Smith is a producer and reporter at WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter at @pksmid.

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