Ford’s CEO was the only head of a traditional American automaker speak up when President Trump enacted travel restrictions against seven Muslim-majority nations.
“As a company, we have to live by our values,” said Mark Fields. He also noted that Ford’s hometown, Dearborn, Michigan has the largest Arab population of any city in America.
Census figures put the Arab population there at 30%. But that’s a low-ball estimate, according to Matthew Stiffler, research manager at Dearborn’s Arab American National Museum. In reality, the city is more than half Arab, he said, citing more recent and more detailed surveys.
And many of the city’s Arab residents run their own businesses, some of which have been open for decades. Nada Shatila’s Shatila Bakery was founded by her father in the 1970s. It now ships products worldwide.
“What many of our employees do have in common is that many of them have left a difficult situation, whether it be in Lebanon, whether it be in Iraq or Syria,” owner Nadia Shatila said. “Almost everyone here has found the American dream in Dearborn, and they’ve grown from that.”
Dearborn’s Arab community got its start in the early 20th century, when immigrants of all kinds flocked there to work at Ford’s ( massive River Rouge industrial complex. It was a huge sprawl of shops and machines that required an influx of labor to man it. )
At the time, immigrants came from all over the world. But Italians, Poles and others drifted off in later generations. The Arabs stayed and their numbers grew as conflict in their home region increased, said Stiffler.
People in this community were stunned by the order restricting travel to the U.S. from Arab and Muslim nations, said Ismael Aljahmi. His family operates a small chain of Yemeni restaurants in Dearborn.
“It’s even hard for my kids,” he said. “What am I going to tell them? That our president made a ban against us? Against our people?”
For many here, the problem with the travel restriction is as much about the perception it creates as it is about the practical issues. It seems that no less than the leader of the free world sees Arabs as an inherent danger.
“I’m an American citizen but I still feel less welcome,” said Hussein Saad of Prince’s Bakery. “People look at you differently after that.”
He has one suggestion for President Trump that he thinks might help ease the tensions.
“He should come to Dearborn and have a meal,” Saad said. “That’s all I can tell him”
CNNMoney (Dearborn, Michigan) First published February 1, 2017: 1:44 PM ET