PATERSON, N.J. — What one Paterson nursing student has long been seeing in the media has become an unfortunate reality for her and dozens of other Muslims in her circles.
Osoul Taha, 22, says she's been assaulted in coffee shops and supermarkets several times since the beginning of U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign.
"You hear about these things on TV, but you don’t expect it to happen to you — and you don't know how to react," said Taha, who is Palestinian.
She received her U.S. citizenship when she was only a month old and has lived in Dumont since she was six.
But Taha knows there are people who have it worse than she does. As much as she wants to help them, she feels powerless.
In 2015, she began volunteering at SMILE for Charity in Passaic, a non-profit committed to helping marginalized community members, including domestic violence victims, widows and Syrian refugees.
The organization feeds approximately 170 local families and offers job placement, education and financial programs for anyone in need.
She says the job is equal parts rewarding and heartbreaking, especially since last week, when Trump put an immigration ban on refugees and citizens from seven Muslim countries.
"It's grounding to say the least," Taha said.
"One Muslim client told me he came to America for his family's safety, and now he's being hated. If it’s not Trump, it’s racist people lashing out. If it’s not that, he doesn’t have a job.
"They're facing so many problems from each direction and they don’t know what to do."
Neither does Taha.
Her clients often ask what's going to happen to them, their kids, their families? Will they be sent back to a war zone?
"I tell them: 'You have to unite,'" Taha said. "(I tell them to) trust the fact we're going to figure this out somehow.
"I can't tell them it's going to be fine because I don't know. I tell them to take it day by day, step by step."
It hasn't been all bad, Taha said.
She's seen a lot of good come from a terrible situation, such as when immigration lawyers came rushing to airports to work pro bono for refugees. That brought her to tears.
Taha has made friends with people of other religions and backgrounds at local protests, including one Wednesday night on Main Street in Paterson.
It made her feel like maybe, after all, there was some hope in the world.
"I want more unity. I want more accepting," Taha said.
"Maybe we have a chance at standing up to this coward who thinks he’s so superior and better than his citizens.
"Maybe we can put an end to his bigotry and racism."
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