Iranian families divided by Trump travel ban

Iranian families divided by Trump travel ban
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi will not attend the Oscars, where his film, “The Salesman”, has been nominated for best foreign language film.
By bne IntelliNews February 1, 2017

One of the most stirring reactions to Donald Trump’s sudden introduction of a ban on citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations came from the chief executive of Washington state-based travel service Expedia. Dara Khosrowshahi, an Iranian immigrant, wrote in an email to employees: “The president’s order represents the worst of his proclivity toward rash action versus thoughtfulness. Ours is a nation of immigrants. These are our roots, this is our soul. All erased with the stroke of a pen.”

“I believe that with this executive order, our President has reverted to the short game,” he added. “The US may be ever so slightly less dangerous as a place to live, but it will certainly be seen as a smaller nation, one that is inward-looking versus forward thinking, reactionary versus visionary.”

The executive order, "Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States", issued on January 27, suspends entry into the US, regardless of a valid non-diplomatic visa, by alien nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, with an updated list of prohibited countries to be determined after that period

Khosrowshahi says his company intended to join Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer and fellow state business, in backing the Washington state attorney general’s lawsuit arguing that Trump’s executive order is unlawful. Tech executives across the US, who until this week were generally seen as trying to find ways to work with Trump, have been pointing to the far-reaching consequences the “UnAmerican” prohibition could have on IT firms’ workforces, which often include immigrants who have American high-tech work visas.

Human level

In Iran it was the impact on the human level that was causing most dismay. There were parents resigned to not seeing their children studying in the US for years until after their graduations, and families torn down the middle with one parent stranded abroad on a work assignment. Even dual passport holders have all been caught up in the crackdown on immigration and refugees.

Census Bureau data analysed by Pew Research Center determines that as of 2012 there were 781,235 residents of the US who were born in countries subject to the ban, or 2% of all immigrants. The largest shares come from Iran (370,000) and Iraq (170,000).

“I am torn, my parents are here with me in the United States, whilst my wife is stuck in Iran. I was planning on selling my property in Tehran before this happened… though if this is what the future looks like for Iranians in America then I will move elsewhere,” says one Iranian-American business person who, fearing his wife’s visa application might be rejected indefinitely if it became known he had talked to the press, asked to remain anonymous.

Many in Iran are discussing Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose film, “The Salesman”, has been nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film. Although he could have applied for an artistic waiver that would have allowed him to travel to Los Angeles next month to attend the Academy Awards, Farhadi told the Tehran correspondent of The New York Times that he would not be going. Like the film’s star Taraneh Alidoosti, he has decided to take a moral stand.

Farhadi, whose films are seen by critics as meditations on what crisis does to the soul and how it pushes us to confront not who we want to be but who we are, issued a statement aimed at both Trump and Iran’s religious conservatives. It read: “For years on both sides of the ocean, groups of hardliners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behaviour by narrow-minded individuals.”

Tehran resident Saeedeh Sharifi, 35, has relatives in the US. She told bne IntelliNews that she perceived the situation as incredible, for in her lifetime Iran had not committed any truly hostile acts against the US. “My cousins have invested time and money to live and study in the US, they spent their parents’ money – whom I may add followed them to support them during their masters’ and Ph.D degrees – and now they are all trapped in America. What will happen to their house here if they get stuck in the US?” she reflected.

Iran, she said, was still not connected to international payment systems, meaning the family could run out of money in the US sooner rather than later. “Then what do they do, beg?” she asked.

Maryam Saeedi, an assistant professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon, and her husband, both Iranian academics and green card holders, fear they may not be able to re-enter the US if they leave, yet researchers like them need to attend many international scientific conferences each year as they collaborate with peers around the world.

“We’ve been living [here] for years,” Saeedi told the Vox news website. “We are a productive part of this community - and now we’re banned. They just consider us to be terrorists.”

Saeedi and a handful of Iranian colleagues have launched an online petition via which those in academia can voice opposition to the ban and warn of the damage it will do to American science and research. Forty Nobel laureates are among the signatories.

Bitter experience

Iran’s clerical ruling establishment has taken aim at the punitive measures the new occupant of the White House had directed against the country’s citizens. Iranian officials are busy preparing a measure that means visas will no longer be issued to Americans. Around 50,000 visited Iran last year as the post-sanctions era got under way.

Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, the head of the Iranian judiciary, called on the Rouhani government to react decisively. In a meeting with senior judiciary officials on January 30, he urged President Hassan Rouhani to learn from the “major and bitter experience” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal and to respond with a “decisive, appropriate and proportional reaction” to Trump’s “unbalanced, illogical and inhumane” actions, Tasnim News Agency reported. 

Rouhani, however, has responded with a cautious, philosophical approach. The president, who is seeking re-election on a moderate platform, on January 28 tweeted: “Let’s help neighbouring cultures, not build walls between nations. Let’s not forget what happened to the Berlin Wall.”

Two days later, speaking to reporters while on a visit to a shrine, he added: “We are neither xenophobic nor xenophile nor isolated… in the world, but we are Muslims, revolutionary and Iranian, with all the similarities and differences with other peoples around the world.”