“That’s our luck,” that we would come to this country and have the situation take a bad turn, Yalda said. Fate is making jokes.
The Iranian Ph.D. candidate isn’t a stranger to difficult situations. In her lifetime, she’s witnessed wars, harsh economic limitations and restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, but when President Donald Trump announced an executive order limiting immigration from her country and six others, she said she was shocked.
“Because of the very different situations in my country people always feel like they are living on the edge of a sword,” Yalda said. “The reality is that people live with that fear of the future all the time.”
Yalda thought she had moved beyond that fear when she came to the University to advance her education in August. She recognized that the U.S. and Iranian governments don’t have a warm relationship, but in spite of her nationality she said she was welcomed warmly and respectfully by her colleagues, professors and newly-made friends.
Yaldah said her position is once again insecure following the president’s executive order, and her concern is heightened by frequent changes to the order’s implementation.
The Jan. 27 order halted entry and re-entry into the United States for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, refugee entry for 120 days and entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. On Feb. 3, a federal judge in Seattle placed a stay on the order, and on Feb. 9 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the president’s appeal.
The Trump administration has indicated it intends to take additional action and may release an executive order to heighten security as the original order moves through the court system. In the coming days, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will vote en banc on whether to reconsider Trump’s appeal.
Wednesday evening Student Government senators heard a bill authored by Graduate School senator Jordan Landry urging the immediate revocation of Trump’s executive order. Landry said he authored the bill in an effort to stick up for the 118 students from countries affected by the executive order.
The bill was hotly debated as senators voiced concerns that the bill was politically motivated or politically inclined in such a way that would alienate conservative members of the student body. E.J. Ourso College of Business senator John Fourcade cited the campus’s mock presidential election results as a potential deterrent to supporting the bill, noting that 47.5 percent of voting students supported Trump and likely supported his policies.
As a main issue of Trump’s campaign, students supporting Trump likely understood his stance on immigration and knew an action like this was possible, he said.
The bill was referred back to the Student Life, Diversity and Community Outreach Committee following a 31-30 vote on a motion from Manship School of Mass Communication senator Beth Carter. Senate speaker Alexandra de Gravelle cast the tie-breaking vote.
Yalda said political decisions are not black and white, and she can understand Trump’s desire to make the country great and preserve economic opportunities for citizens. Despite this, she said she hopes he reconsiders his position because his actions are doing more to limit the opportunities of innocent people than restrict the actions of terrorists.
Most Iranians come to the United States to participate in advanced educational opportunities and contribute to the country’s research programs, she said.
“I hope that he thinks about it and figures out that the banning and even the sanctions just punish ordinary people like me who already suffer from their own government,” she said.
Saeed Fosshat, a 28-year-old chemistry Ph.D. candidate from Shiraz, Iran, said instead of a ban, the government could institute tougher vetting processes, though the process is already stringent. Fosshat said it took roughly eight to nine months to complete his visa process and receive permission to enter the country.
In addition to extensive background checks, the process is lengthened because Iranians must travel to an American embassy in a neighboring country, such as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey or Armenia, to conduct the necessary immigration interviews, he said. The U.S. embassy in Iran has been closed since the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and Fosshat had to travel to Abu Dhabi in the UAE for his interview.
Altogether, Fosshat and Yalda each worked for two years to attend an American university, having to pass the TOEFL and GRE exams to qualify for entrance, in addition to completing the visa process. After investing considerable time, money and effort into pursuing his education, Fosshat said he is fearful he will be ousted and unable to complete his degree.
Though the original order called for suspended travel for 90 days, rumors are circulating throughout the international community that additional sanctions could be on the horizon. Fosshat said the fear and uncertainty created by the situation has made it difficult to focus on his studies and routine.
Fosshat said he’s chosen to shield his family from the news in an effort not to worry his 70-year-old mother, and he instead focuses on his new experiences and friendships when he speaks to his parents. He said knowing he could be deprived of seeing his family is a strange feeling.
Yalda said her parents are suffering knowing they may struggle to see their child during her six-year Ph.D. program. Yalda entered the country on a single-entry visa, and is dependent on her parents’ ability to enter the country for family interactions.
A lot can happen in six years — weddings, funerals, births — and Yalda said she doesn’t understand why she and other students from the seven countries should live differently from other students, unable to see their families or return home.
Though both Fosshat and Yalda officially identify as Muslims, neither practices Islam. Westerners typically believe Iran, a Muslim-majority country, is dominated by a single strict, religious point of view, but that is not true, Yalda said. Even if it were, followers of a belief system or citizens of a region shouldn’t be judged wholesale.
“No nation or no followers of a certain religion can be judged altogether. There might be some evil guys among Muslim people, there might be some evil guys among Christians, but ... it is the responsibility of those people, not that religion,” Fosshat said.