Butterfly Falafel is a social hub for Boston’s Somali community, and on Sunday afternoon, the Roxbury Crossing café was bustling. Women in head scarves came and went. But the men tended to linger, socializing over house specialties like mashmash, a Somali pancake, and sweet Somali tea flavored with ginger and other spices.
Abdillahi Abdirahman is Butterfly’s owner. He came to the U.S. during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, became a citizen during Bill Clinton’s, and speaks with pride of the life he’s built here.
"Everything I know, I learned it here in this country, I owe to the America," he said.
When asked about President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from Somalia and several other Muslim countries, Abdirahman’s response was measured. He cited American history, saying the targeting of specific groups of immigrants is nothing new.
"The Irish went through 100 years ago. The Jews went through this. Any immigrant went through this."
Abdirahman also said that for American Muslims, extra scrutiny from the government has been a fact of life for years.
"People only see this ban right now," Abdirahman said. "It has been a problem for a while when you come into the country. Even as a U.S. citizen, I’m speaking [from] experience—I travel a lot and each time I come, I was pulled on the side. Stay one hour, two hour."
Still, it’s clear that Abdirahman thinks Trump has gone too far. When he spotted a party of three headed to the protest in Copley Square, he approvingly pointed out the sign they’re carrying, a pink placard with the message “Power to the People.”
He also calls Trump’s action "un-American," and said he’s counting on the U.S. political system to keep Trump in check.
"Governors are working on it, attorney generals are working on it, some judges are working on it," Abdirahman said. "I have faith for the system. The system will correct itself."
In the Butterfly kitchen, I got a different take from Abidrahman’s business partner, Mahmoud Aden, who used to be a fan of Trump.
"Bringing the jobs here...that’s what I was liking," Aden said, adding that he was tired of the "same old, same old."
But now, like Abdirahman, Aden laments Trump's new travel ban. When I noted that the ban is right in line with promises Trump made during the campaign, Aden said that until now, he didn't think Trump actually meant what he said.
"I didn’t take him seriously," Aden said. "I thought he wanted to get election with that."
But back out in the café, Muzammil Aden, a student at Chelsea High School, insisted there's nothing unexpected about Trump’s executive order.
"I wasn’t surprised he was gonna do that, because he doesn’t like Muslims in the first place," he said.
The president has disputed that assessment, saying he “loves” Muslims, and that he’s only acting on security concerns.
But Abdirahman remains uneasy. He’s a a frequent traveler to Somalia, where his wife still lives, and he’s planning to go abroad in about a week.
When he gets back, Abdirahman said, he may need to revise his assessment of Trump’s immigration crackdown.
"My ticket back is next Saturday," he told me. "You can come and see me at the airport, 7:40 a.m. We’ll see how I get through the customs—or if I get stopped, you can get my story out there."