As the Trump administration engages in a back and forth with judges over the controversial immigration ban, Americans have been left questioning to whom this policy applies, in what ways does it counter terrorism and what doors of racial and religious discrimination does it open for the future?
In reality, the policy may be doing a better job at tearing apart families than it is at keeping “bad dudes” from entering the country.
Saeid Golkar, a Middle East and North African Studies lecturer, recounted the crushing disappointment of finally securing an interview for a visa with the U.S. Consulate in Dubai for his Persian parents, only to find out Trump had halted the issuing of all visas indefinitely from Iran. Golkar hasn’t seen his parents in four years and now that count is likely to rise as he worries when he’ll be able to reunite with his family.
“If I can’t go outside to visit my parents and they cannot come inside to visit us, it sounds kind of like you’re stuck, like a prison,” he said.
For some, like Golkar, the ban creates physical barriers between themselves and their loved ones. While for others this may not necessarily be the case, these experiences still serve as a sobering moment.
Mariam Ardehali, a Weinberg sophomore and U.S. born Iranian-American, explained that her father immigrated to America in 1986, but had his visa for almost 20 years. Had this policy been passed in 2006, threatening her parents with deportation, she knew her parents might've had to leave her and her brother behind in America to pursue their education. While that may not be her current reality, she said it serves to show how many families are going through a similar situation in the moment, one that hits alarmingly close to home.
“I talk about my family having a visa until 2006 because there’s so many other families out there who are in that situation ... whose lives are going to be ruined by this,” Ardehali said. Ardehali worries about seeing her grandparents again and her family that she just visited this past summer in Iran, after being previously separated for a decade.
Bahareh Poureslami, a second year master's student in Bienen and U.S. born Iranian-American, also wondered when she’d be able to see her family again. When she saw the announcement of the ban, Poureslami said her initial reaction was not only sadness, but confusion and fear. She later realized that she’d be able to visit her family that now resides in Canada.
“I started crying because I miss my family, and I want to see them, and I wondered when would be the next time?” Poureslami said. “The hardest part for me was the sense of relief I felt when I thought, ‘well, I was born in the States.’ I didn’t get a choice about that, the same way my parents didn’t get a choice about where they were born.”
However, the implications of this travel ban go far beyond the status of visiting family members.
Shirin Vossoughi, an assistant professor of the learning sciences and an Iranian-American, said the ban “makes visible, perhaps on a broader scale, the type of racialization and anti-Muslim, anti-Middle Eastern sentiment that has existed in this country for some time.”
Not only are students worried about being separated from their families and being unable to attend important events like weddings and funerals, but they are also worried that the society they grew up in perceives them as second-class citizens.
“It makes me feel like I’m being named as less of an American … because of my family’s nation of origin,” Ardehali said.
Although Medill freshman Nadine Daher is from Jordan, which is not a country affected by the ban, as a Muslim, she said she worries about the effects of anti-Muslim sentiment. Daher said because of her religious practice, the executive order affects how people see her and treat her.
“They have the major source of power behind them, so now people who are against Muslims, who feel like they’re a threat to this country, feel like it’s OK to do something about it,” Daher said.
Vossoughi stresses that anxiety about the future of their academics is extremely real right now among students affected by the ban. Some students that were outside of the country when the ban was put into effect cannot enter the U.S. to continue their studies and for students who are currently en route to be admitted there is a strong atmosphere of uncertainty. Vossoughi along with several other colleagues have written a letter to the University president, Morton Schapiro, outlining steps for the University to take in order to support students. She said the letter urges the University to provide free legal services to students affected by the ban. The letter suggests the creation of a system in which students who are unable to complete their studies at this time, as well as those who have been accepted but must defer admission, will be able to return at any time to complete their degree.
Ravi Shankar, the director of the International Office, stressed that the University indeed stands in full support of any student affected by this ban. He said that it’s difficult during this time to navigate the uncertainty of the order and what is to come after its expiration date.
“The order clearly states that all visas have been suspended so we’re inviting students not to travel, until it’s clear that they can actually travel and their visas will be valid,” Shankar said. “We’re also telling the students that if need be we will provide legal help and assistance, should they find themselves in a situation where they would need legal help.”
Though the University is willing to assist students dealing with the repercussions of the policy, the U.S., by restricting travel and obstructing students’ education, may be losing some of its brightest scholars and potential scientists, entrepreneurs and artists.
At eight years old, sophomore Rowan Hussein moved thousands of miles from Sudan to the United States. She and her family moved to Colorado, where her father worked for the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and her mother gave up her job at the UN to be a teacher.
Now, Hussein’s father works in Dubai. When the executive order was first released, she and her family worried about whether or not her father would be able to return to the United States. Their worries were soon expelled because like Hussein, her father holds dual citizenship, though perhaps the worrying should have been left to the U.S., because if Hussein’s father couldn’t travel back, they’d be at risk of losing a talented scientist. According to Hussein, her father single-handedly made contributions to the U.S.’s alternative energy system, and her mother dedicated herself to educating American children.
Hussein’s father is just one example of the contributions immigrants from these seven countries have made to the United States. The ban will bring with it a loss to American society and the economy that the U.S. simply is not prepared for. While many stress the negative effects this ban will have on the future of these seven countries and their citizens, Golkar notes that in the long term if the U.S. is disconnected from these societies, the U.S. will be substantially hurt as well.
Golkar argues the ban alienated most of the Middle East in it's ‘supposed’ efforts to fight terrorism. For example, according to Golkar, the ban empowers the radicalism in the Iranian government by fueling their negative American narrative.
Ardehali worries about the future of the Iran nuclear deal, recalling the parades that broke out into the streets in Iran after the signing of the deal with the U.S.
“I’ve driven past nuclear plants in Iran this summer ... and it’s scary because they’re active,” Ardehali said. “Getting rid of the Iran nuclear deal especially will be a very dangerous move.”
Given that none of the countries that radicalized Muslims who carried out deadly attacks in the U.S., beginning on Sept. 11, 2001, came from are on the list, the ban has left many wondering what the true intentions of the policy are. Scholars like Golkar are left questioning how successful it will be in countering terrorism.
“If you put the ban on Syrian refugees and they cannot come or they cannot go another way, what option they have?” Golkar said. “They have to go back to living with the Assad or they have to join the ISIS. So even this policy actually paradoxically will help the radical group like ISIS.”
Golkar goes as far as to suggest that some of Trump’s administration may want to engage in a limited war with Iran. With the launch of an Iranian missile test after the announcement of the policy which prompted Washington to impose new sanctions on Tehran, the impending threat of war isn’t that far fetched.
However, even these despondent predictions for the future of Trump’s administration haven’t halted these students and professors resistance and work towards progress.
Golkar himself will continue to write papers and op-eds challenging the policy, though he will consider moving from the country in the long term if the ban persists. Ardehali has participated in several protests including those held at O’Hare International Airport and has offered her Farsi translating services for families stranded at the airport. Vossoughi has helped organized a national teach-in with the University of Pennsylvania’s center for race and equity that will be broadcasted nationwide on Wednesday, Feb. 8 where a panel of lawyers, activists and scholars will engage in a dialogue about the issues with this policy. Vossoughi herself feels hopeful that there has been a widespread resistance, in which people are learning to work together and organize.
Though there seems to be little hope for the future, Trump’s policies have sparked a new age of political activism that loudly condemns the discriminatory policies enacted by this new administration. It is more important than ever, Golkar stressed, to make a distinction between the attitudes of American society and actions of American government clear to the world, where the difference may not be as evident. Since the ban has succeeded in further vilifying the U.S. in the Middle East, ahead lies a defining challenge for America: Do we want to be seen as a people who restrict others from coming to our country based on prejudice in the name of safety or will we choose to practice empathy on the world stage?
“At this point it's not about being Democrat or Republican anymore, it's a lot about ...looking at people as other human beings,” Ardehali said. “I think this goes past politics and more toward ... how we want to live as a nation because, we can ban Muslims, but who comes next?”
Editor's note: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated Mariam Ardehali was a junior and that her mother immigrated in 1948. We regret these errors, and made the change on Feb. 8 at 9:10 p.m.