USA batsman Fahad Babar returns home because of immigration worries
USA batsman Fahad Babar has left the ICC Americas squad midway through their WICB Regional Super50 campaign in Barbados on the recommendation of his immigration lawyer. Babar, a Pakistan national who qualified to play for USA under the ICC's seven-year residency rule, said he returned to the USA as a precautionary measure in the wake of the executive order from US President Donald Trump blocking entry for 90 days to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Babar left Barbados on Wednesday night after ICC Americas' 66-run loss to Jamaica and landed in Chicago on Thursday morning.
"I had no issues coming in and out," Babar told ESPNcricinfo on Friday. "But there's always that fear which bothers you. So that's the issue. Other than that I've had no other problems."
He is one of six Muslim players in the ICC Americas squad. Ali Khan and Akeem Dodson, both American citizens, are the two other USA players while the rest reside in Canada.
Babar said the uncertainty over his own immigration status weighed on his mind during his time in Barbados, where he scored 29 runs in two innings. Leaving the team to come back to Chicago was a difficult decision, particularly because one of the incentives for the ICC Americas squad members is an opportunity to be drafted by a Caribbean Premier League franchise through their performances at the Regional Super50, but he said he felt this was the best course of action after speaking with USA head coach Pubudu Dassanayake, other members of the ICC Americas staff and his lawyer, William McClean.
"Cricket is a mental game and you have to be mentally fit enough to play the game and I think it affected me a little bit in my performance," Babar said. "I worked really hard to get into the ICC Americas team. I had to perform and prove myself before coming here. I was in Sri Lanka to gain experience to work hard towards this. Unfortunately, it's not my time right now. That's what I can say and I will work hard in the future to get another opportunity. It's disappointing but it's life and you have to be strong sometimes to get through this."
Currently, the US travel-ban specifically applies to nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. McClean said he was wary of the list being expanded beyond the initial seven countries and wanted his clients to be protected in case that happens.
"He's [Fahad] from Pakistan which is close to those other countries and might be next on the chopping block," McClean told ESPNcricinfo. "If he's out of the US when they say, 'okay we're extending the ban to Pakistani people', Fahad will be barred. He will not be allowed to come back into the United States even if he's travelling for cricket and that's what we're scared of."
Babar, 24, came to the USA as a 14-year old and went on to represent the USA Under-19 team in 2011 before making his senior team debut in 2013. He has developed into one of USA's most consistent batsmen and was named tournament MVP at the 2015 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 championship in Indianapolis.
Babar recently spent two months in Sri Lanka playing first-class cricket for Kalutara Physical Culture Club through an opportunity organised by Dassanayake. He came back through Miami on January 24 on his way to Barbados for the Regional Super50, just days before President Trump's executive action was signed halting immigration from certain countries.
USA's next international competition is the ICC WCL Division Three in Uganda in May. However, McClean said he will continue to advise caution because Babar was flagged for "secondary inspection" on his arrival back to the USA this week.
"The only thing that happened to him, in my opinion, that shouldn't have happened when he came back to the United States is that they put him in secondary inspection," McClean said. "A lot of people have to go through that but there was no reason for him to have to go through secondary inspection and they made him go do that anyway. Secondary inspection is a room with no windows and a locked door.
"That 120-day rule, that should not apply to Fahad because he's not a refugee and he's not from any of those countries that are affected by the ban. But he's not a citizen. Green card holders are being excluded from the United States but for Fahad himself, the actual bar should not have an effect on him."
No replacement player has been named for Babar, who was replaced by Dodson in the starting XI for Friday's match against Barbados, and an ICC Americas source indicated that none would be added for the team's final three matches at the Regional Super50.
Babar's departure leaves the squad with essentially 13 available players from their original 15. Ali Khan has not played since aggravating a hamstring injury in the team's first warm-up match prior to the start of the Regional Super50 and his fitness is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna