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Caught Up in the Muslim Ban

In this podcast, Kerning Cultures looks at Donald Trump’s US travel ban and its effects.

On January 27, President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning immigration into the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. The full text of the executive order documents that the ban was issued “to protect Americans … [and] the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles.”

The week that ensued was chaotic. There were no clear instructions of how to roll out this new immigration policy. Even those within the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration of the US Department of State—the agency that processes incoming migrants—were not informed and had to keep “refreshing the White House website for updates.”

Tens of thousands were affected, prohibited from boarding US-bound planes around the world because airlines pay a fine of $3,000 per passenger they permit aboard who are improperly brought to the United States. For the hundreds that boarded planes before the ban was enacted, they were prohibited from entering the US upon arrival. Thousands of family members and friends were unsure where their loved ones would be sent to next. Estimates place the number of people affected at 90,000.


But statistics and figures don’t ever paint the full picture, do they? We want you to meet one person whose life was affected by the recent travel ban.

Ibrahim initially moved to the US six years ago from Iran, but his time since then hasn’t always been easy. The first time he came, it was 2011 and protests in Iran were in full-force. He moved in with his older brother in Michigan, excited at the prospects of starting his life over in America.

“I [felt] so happy,” Ibrahim said. “Because everybody talk about America. In Iran, America is like a heaven. They think everything is perfect. Because Hollywood makes really good movies.”

But after a few months, tousled by the language barriers and the cold, he returned to Tehran. Back in Iran, amidst rising prices and a difficult economy, he thought to try once more in the United States. A friend of Ibrahim’s encouraged him to move to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he was studying at the University of Virginia, and Ibrahim thought, “Why not?” When he told his brother, his brother scoffed, “I will see you [back in Michigan] after one month … because [Charlottesville] is not easy.”

Ibrahim took on the challenge. He returned to the US in 2012, this time to Charlottesville, and almost immediately felt comfortable. “And I said, man, here is nice. I don’t want to go to Detroit or Tehran. I want to start my new life in America. [Because] Charlottesville is exactly like Ramsar, one city [we have] in Iran. It is green, quiet, clean. And lots of nice people. And here, I find lots of jobs.”

Ibrahim started working at a local Indian restaurant where the owner took him under his wing and helped teach him English. From there, he began working at the University of Virginia’s dining hall, where he enjoyed speaking to students and practicing his English. “Some people when they try to talk to American people, they are nervous. They try to run away. But I never do that. I love to talk. If I make mistakes, they can help me because that is why American people are nice.”

He quickly befriended students during his time off while playing ping-pong in the university recreational room. Speaking with Ibrahim, we learned rather quickly that he’s not one to take it easy on unworthy opponents. He was a ping-pong champion in Tehran from the age of 11, and sources tell us he has yet to lose a game at the University of Virginia.

Ibrahim was now settled. He had a car, an apartment and, most importantly, language skills. At this point, enough time had passed and the paperwork was complete for him to bring his wife, Mahiye, to join him in Charlottesville.

In 2015, Mahiye arrived from Iran. The two lived apart for the first four years of their married life as Ibrahim settled in the United States and began processing Mahiye’s paperwork. The US visa vetting process alone takes at least two years before approval. Finally together, they embarked on starting their family. In 2016, they got pregnant but miscarried.

Now, in 2017, they are pregnant again and further along than before. As they eagerly anticipate their delivery, they invited Mahiye’s mother to come from Iran to be with her daughter. Mahiye looks to her mother to teach her the secrets of motherhood, to help her with pregnancy and delivery, and to relieve the burden on the new mother when there’s an infant in the home and Ibrahim has to continue to work.

But because of the recent US immigration ban, Mahiye’s mom will not be able to come. When the couple heard the news, they were devastated. “My wife was crying,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim said he doesn’t understand why this is happening, and especially to Iranians. He thinks maybe it’s “because [the Trump administration] thinks that the Iran government supports terrorists, [and meanwhile] the Iran government thinks that the American government supports terrorists.”

He struggles to reconcile the reality of the ban with the lofty ideals he studied in his free time. “When I read about Constitution in America, they said ‘we the people.’ And we are people, so what is different?”

*[This feature was originally published by Kerning Cultures, a partner institution of Fair Observer. The podcast was presented by Razan Alzayani and Hebah Fisher, and the article was written by Lilly Crown.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.