Only a week ago, USC faculty member Alireza Tabatabaeenejad was welcomed to the United States as a naturalized citizen. He was making plans to seek residency for his Iranian parents. But under Trump’s new executive order, he may have to put his dream on hold.
The Trump administration announced on Sunday they would restrict almost all travel from eight countries: Chad, North Korea, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iran and Venezuela. While the restrictions vary from country to country, the Iranian community, including staff and students at USC, could be one of the groups most affected.
Tabatabaeenejad, 36, is a research assistant professor at the department of electrical engineering at USC. He has been in the United Stated for 16 years and says, “I never thought it would get to this point.”
“I think there is no way my parents can come and visit me anymore, so I have to go visit them every year,” Tabatabaeenejad says. “It’s good to have the option of having my parents or my sister come here visit me once in a while.”
The executive order, temporarily implemented on March 6, affected six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen. Sudan was excluded from this updated order, and tougher rules are impacting countries like Iran. Although Venezuela is included in this new order, the restrictions are only targeting certain government officials and their immediate family members.
Niels Frenzen, the director of the USC Gould School of Law Immigration Clinic, says a possible reason behind the addition of new countries could be an effort on behalf of the federal government to “create the appearance that this is a facially neutral visa policy that is based upon intelligence facts and national security facts that has nothing to do with animus, dislike or hatred towards Muslims.”
In a report released in June by the Department of Homeland Security, USC stood out as the university with the second-largest international student population in the U.S. According to university data from 2016, out of 10,569 international students at USC, 168 of them were Iranian citizens.
“Looking at the USC population, it is primarily Iranian students who are going to be affected by this,” Frenzen added. “Those who are already have visas will continue to be able to use those visas [to] continue to both…[remain] in the U.S., as well as to use those visas to depart and return to the United States, assuming that the visas have not expired.”
Tabatabaeenejad fears that it will be harder to hire students coming from the order’s listed countries both in terms of issuing visas and student hesitation to apply “because once they come here it is very difficult for them to go back and visit family for emergency situations or international conferences,” he says.
Tabatabaeenejad recalls his own struggles after entering the U.S. only a couple weeks after the attacks on Sept. 11 in New York City. “I was not able to visit my country for more than five years even after that. I went and visited my family, and I had to reapply for a visa because Iranian visas were single entries as most of them are.” Although it was hard for him back then, he thinks Iranian students have bigger obstacles now.
Frenzen reminds students that “Iranian citizens will continue to be eligible to receive student visas both the F1, the M1s, and the J1 exchange visitor visas.”
“They will be subjected to increased scrutiny, increased vetting, [but] at the same time they are already being subjected to extreme scrutiny every time [they] apply for a visa and every time they arrive at an international port of entry such as LAX,” says Frenzen.
“Think before you travel internationally,” says Frenzen. He recommends international students to not be surprised for “possible delays, possible increased questioning, whether it be at the U.S. consulate, or at the airports when you return to the United States.”
Frenzen says these precautions should be taken by all international students, which is why he advises “if you’re here on an F or a J international student or exchange visitor visa, consult with a staff person at the Office of International Services before you travel.”
This map highlights visa restrictions for the eight countries listed in Trump's executive order. The matching colored pins show which countries have similar restrictions.
In a statement issued by USC’s Provost office, the university reminds students that “We have taken additional steps — and will continue — to protect all students, faculty and staff, regardless of their national origin or religious affiliation.”
Tabatabaeenejad says he wants to see USC’s President Nikias to take a firm stand against Trump’s order. He gives credit to the Provost Michael Quick for sending letters, but he thinks the university should take a stronger stance. He plans to reach out to other professors who were against in the previous order to see if “they have any plan of expressing their opposition.” And plans to get involved if that’s the case.
With this new proclamation, the Supreme Court canceled oral court hearings for cases filed by the International Refugee Assistance Project and the state of Hawaii against the Trump administration's previous order.
Frenzen expects that the states and organizations that filed lawsuits against the previous order will go to court in the following days to challenge the updated one.
The new travel restrictions will be effective starting on October 18, 2017, and they will permanent until further notice. This order does not address the entrance of refugees because the 120-day temporary restrictions have not ended.
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