Amrita Chakraborty, 29, came to the United States from Calcutta, India in 2015. She stayed at Airbnbs, traveled throughout the States and met a variety of Americans. While each city and each person were different, Chakraborty realized one characteristic that connected them all: acceptance.
"I couldn't describe it. It's like I came [to the U.S.] and I finally realized what I was missing the last 12 years," she said. "Because I had always felt that I was being treated unfairly [in India], and everyone kept saying 'no, you're not [treated unfairly]. This is it.'"
As a woman in India, Chakraborty said she felt like an outcast and judged by men and women because she didn't want to fulfill the typical gender roles and social norms expected of women.
Because of this, Chakraborty, a pediatric dentist, decided she would move to the U.S. and pursue her dental license. Having already finished 10 years of education in India, she was taking a risk that many of her friends and family didn't understand.
"I told my dad that I don't care whether I get to practice or not. It's more important that I live in this country. I decided that even if I don't get into the clinical program, I'd at least start off with research," Chakraborty said.
So, Chakraborty moved to Los Angeles and began to do research at the University of Southern California in August 2016. On an F-1 visa, she worked and studied and in October took the clinical exam so she could attend dental school.
Everything was working out. And then, the travel ban happened.
On Jan. 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on immigration that effectively halted travel from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia – for 90 days and "suspended all refugee admission for 120 days."
The order wreaked havoc in airports around with world. U.S. Customs officials detained travelers coming in from the seven countries and elsewhere prevented green card holders and visa holders from returning to the States. Protesters and lawyers swarmed American airports, while federal officials tried to make sense of the new order.
For now, the ban remains blocked after the 9th Circuit of Appeals denied the government's request to reinstate it. But the damage is done and Trump plans to go to the Supreme Court. International students, immigrants and Muslims throughout the United States are fearful of what's next. It's a time of uncertainty, where even U.S. citizens within the Arab community do not feel safe.
Immigration lawyers and universities around the U.S. continue to discourage international travel. Niels Frenzen, a professor at USC and an immigration lawyer, described Trump's executive order as chaos and questioned whether this chaos was intentional or not.
At a panel hosted by USC's Center for Immigrant Integration earlier this month, Frenzen said: "If you are an S-1 or J-1 international student, do not leave the United States." He proceeded to advise dual nationals and green card holders not to travel as well.
Fiana Arbab, 21, is a senior psychology and women's and gender studies at University of Michigan-Dearborn. Arbab's family, which is originally from Bangladesh, immigrated to the United States from Japan in 2001. As a naturalized citizen and a Muslim, Arbab worries about the racial disparity and social injustice that has risen up since the election and only seems to grow with orders like the travel ban.
"I was sleeping over at my friend Sara's house when the travel ban first became real. It was near the afternoon and Sara's mom ran in because Sara is half Iraqi and her dad is currently in Iraq," Arbab said. "If you can just flat out ban seven countries just over one night, what would stop Trump from banning where my parents are from, Bangladesh? I just remember feeling a sense of despair."
Sara Alqaragholy, Fiana's friend and a sophomore at University of Michigan-Dearborn, said her dad has been in Iraq for the past month and originally immigrated to the U.S. after the Gulf War as a refugee. When the ban first went into effect, he called in a panic.
She remembers how her mom, an American of European descent who converted to Islam 25 years ago, calmly explained to her father how he should be able to return without any problems.
But Alqaragholy and her mom continue to worry that her dad's citizenship won't be enough to get him through customs.
"Even now we're still worried that he's going to be detained and he's going to be put in handcuffs," Alqaragholy said. "I mean we just have all these images in our heads because, honestly, most Muslims I know who have ever flown overseas or traveled at all have been detained."
So, Alqaragholy's father pushed his flight back and returned home on Feb. 12. Luckily, he didn't face any problems coming back to the U.S. but others on his flight were detained for hours, according to Alqaragholy.
Like Arqaragholy, Arbab and Chakraborty have also felt the aftershocks of the travel ban.
Arbab's paternal grandfather passed away in the beginning of February. He lived in Bangladesh and her father now questioned whether or not he should attend the funeral.
"At the kitchen table, my mom literally had to say the words like 'if your dad were never to return, could we make it financially?'" she said. "You are just waiting it out because yeah, Bangladesh wasn't one of the names on the list, but it is an Islamic country. You just never know."
As an international student, Chakraborty had planned to attend her best friend's – or as she says, her "soul sister's" – wedding. She had spent thousands of dollars on her flight, was excited for the celebration, and then the ban was enacted. Even though India isn't one of the seven countries on the list, she couldn't risk it.
Her roommate was the first to advise her not to go. Her roommate's acquaintance – an Indian who has been studying at Columbia University – was detained when he tried to board his flight back to the U.S. from Iran. This was the first story Chakraborty heard about Indians with green cards and valid visas being detained. Chakraborty's friend, who is an immigration lawyer, was the next to advise her not to go.
"Finally, I thought let me go talk to my dean. So I spoke to the head of our department and he traveled to Australia on Friday," Chakraborty said. "He was like 'I'm white; I hold an American passport; I'm Australian and I'm scared to travel. So if you ask me about yourself, I would say don't travel."
For Chakraborty, Arbab and Arqaragholy, it's the uncertainty of what's next that keeps them and their family on edge. Arbab and Arqaragholy protested at the Detroit Metro airport and are working within their community by holding interfaith prayer circles, forums and outreach to establish a sanctuary within Dearborn. Chakraborty plans to attend the March for Science and has begun telling friends in India to consider other countries when planning on studying abroad.
America is changing, and a place that once felt like home is now foreign.
"We hold a certain group of people up as beacons for humanity. You hold Buddhist monks as a beacon for spirituality in the same way we have held America up as a beacon for acceptance and non-discrimination and [freedom]," Chakraborty said. "And suddenly, the beacon is not there. So what are we looking at? It's like a void."