Monday, 30 January 2017

USA: Stranded Muslims After Trump Immigration Ban

President Donald Trump's immigration ban has not just stranded travelers. It's also dashed the dreams of thousands of people around the world.

After two years planning, the Suleiman family were turned back to Iraq when they tried to board a flight from Cairo to New York.

"I have prepared for this journey and this immigration for two years," said Fouad Suleiman, a father of three who previously worked as a translator for USAID. "I sold my house, I sold my properties. The most annoying thing that I feel guilty about my kids left their school. So one whole year will be, I don't know what to say.''

That job allowed the 52-year-old Suleiman to apply to emigrate to the U.S. via a program known as the Special Immigrant Visa. It was created by U.S. lawmakers to help the thousands of Iraqis who risked their lives helping Americans after the 2003 invasion.

He applied for U.S. visas for himself, his wife, 10-year-old and 17-year-old daughters and a 19-year-old son in September 2014. The paperwork came through on Dec. 6, 2016.

Once they heard rumblings about Trump's intention to ban Iraqis from going to the U.S., the family hustled and moved their travel plans forward.

They were booked on a flight from the Egyptian capital to New York's JFK airport on Saturday, just hours after Trump's executive order went into effect. They were told they could not board the flight to New York and were turned back to Irbil, Iraq.

"I believe it's a terrible error in the United States, a terrible error in the history of the United States," Suleiman said. "I thought America is an institution and democracy. I see like autocracy."

His youngest daughter, Shad, had studied English at an international school in Iraq and was very excited about moving to the U.S.

Asked what she wanted to be when she grew up in America, she did not hesitate with her response: "Astronaut."

Now their new life has been put on indefinite hold.

"My home is in America. I'm paying rent for my apartment in New York, but I can't go there right now," said Saira Rafiei, a 32-year-old Iranian who is now stuck in Tehran.

Rafiei has been enjoying what she called the rigorous atmosphere of American academia since 2010.

She was initially a student at New York University and she is now doing her Ph.D. in political science at The City University of New York.

Rafiei has an F1 student visa that is valid for multiple entries in and out of the United States for another two years.

She had been in Tehran and was scheduled to fly back to New York via Abu Dhabi on Saturday when she and a group of other Iranian students were blocked from boarding the plane.

Rafiei was told to sign a document or else her visa would be revoked. She described the experience as humiliating and said she felt like she was treated like a criminal — despite the fact that she and many of the other Iranian passengers had valid visas and green cards.

"You somehow have this feeling that you can't trust the U.S. government because the U.S. government doesn't even respect its own policies," Rafiei said. "As I said, some of these people had green cards and they thought that they could go there without any problems."

Rafiei's final dissertation paper for her Ph.D. is on Trump and authoritarian movements.

For months she's been listening to the billionaire's speeches but had thought of him as a showman. Since the weekend, she's nervous.

"I think his policies, his agendas are really dangerous," Rafiei said. "I'm really worried about the future of the U.S. and the whole world."

As for her future, she said she doesn't know what is going to happen.

"Of course I want to go back there because I really love my school. My friends are there, I have worked hard to get into that school," Rafiei said. "I'm not optimistic, but I wish I can there again."

Oscar-nominated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi said he will skip next month's Academy Awards following Trump's executive order, saying he would not attend even if granted an exception to the travel ban.

Farhadi said he previously planned on attending the event with his cinematographer.

"I have decided to not attend the Academy Awards ceremony alongside my fellow members of the cinematic community," Farhadi, whose movie "The Salesman" is up for Best Foreign Language Film said. "I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the citizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations."

Farhadi's 2012 film "The Separation" won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film five years ago.