President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday, January 27, banning all immigrants and visa holders from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States for 90 days. The executive order, titled “Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” applies to visitors from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Iran, including dual citizens. It bans all refugees for 120 days and Syrian refugees indefinitely. For two days, the ban also applied green card holders. (Now green card holders are being admitted entry on a case-by-case basis.)
In theory, the policy is meant to keep out terrorists until better vetting methods can be put in place. But in application, the sweeping order is upending the lives of people trying to see their families and do their jobs. In 72 hours it has created anxiety and heartbreak in the lives of millions around the world, leaving many to question when they will be able to see loved ones again or whether they will lose their employment and livelihoods.
Here are some of the stories of those directly impacted by the ban:
I got a call from my immigration lawyer Tuesday night: “Where are you?”
Murtadha Al Tameemi, 24, Iraqi national, software engineer at Facebook, based in Seattle, work visa
This thing started on Tuesday when the executive order was rumored. I got a call from my immigration lawyer Tuesday night: “Where are you?”
I was in Vancouver to watch my little brother — he’s in a play. He has been working on it all year and I was so proud of him. My whole family was there to see it. But my lawyer told me to come back right away.
I was really conflicted.
I decided, no I am not going to leave. My family is from Iraq, and I had been separated from them for eight years, while I lived in Seattle and they were still in Iraq. My brother was 4 years old when I left. I have missed so much of his childhood. Finally in 2015, my parents and my brother were able to move to Vancouver — just three hours from Seattle. Now is my chance to spend time with them.
But to exercise some prudence, I left early Wednesday morning. I went to rush to the border because in Canada you clear immigration on the Canadian side. Thankfully, I made it and I got in. Now there is the anxiety of what’s next.
My mom is sad that we are separated again. When they came to Vancouver, they felt a huge sense of relief that we can finally have dinners together and have vacations together and do what families do. But the immigration orders mean I don’t get to see my family now. I’m only three hours away but I am separated by an international border.
I work for Facebook. I have plans to travel this week for business to Africa — I had meetings planned with partners and all of that is cancelled. Now I’m not going.
Some big part of the irony of this is 10 years ago, the State Department brought me here because I was from a majority-Muslim country. The idea was the program would offset the misconceptions of Islam; these students would act as ambassadors and also learn about America, and then go home and help offset misconceptions about the United States.
Now we are in a place, we are doing the exact opposite — undoing the success of these initiatives that have worked to close the gap between the Muslim and Western world.
I have lived here for 10 years. I pay taxes. I volunteer. I belong to this community. But at the same time, the country is taking a stance of “we don’t want you here.” Sure, the context is people who are terrorists, but the people who are affected are people like me. I come from Iraq. I have experienced and witnessed the destruction of terrorism. It’s ripped through my family — I don’t want terrorists near my home either.
My story is just one of many people. It hurts. It kills me. I don’t see this in any way serving the national interest of this country. And I take a big interest in the safety of United States because I live here.
“Imagine being sent back to a war zone or to a place you fled due to political persecution”
Nisrin Elamin, 39, Sudanese national, PhD student in New York City, green card
This past Thursday evening, my family and I were watching the news about this impending order from our home in Sudan. Within an hour I made the decision to interrupt my dissertation research and got on the next plane back to the US. I barely had time to say goodbye to my family. I was trying to get back before the order would go into effect.
Unfortunately, I missed a connecting flight and ended up getting into JFK airport about 20 minutes after immigration officers were given notice about the order. I was detained, questioned extensively, and subjected to an uncomfortable body pat down which included being touched in the breast and groin area. It was humiliating.
I was also handcuffed for a brief moment before being transferred to another holding area in Terminal 4. I started crying because I thought I might get deported. In Terminal 4, I witnessed a few others affected by this order, being escorted into our area in handcuffs.
At first the officers seemed confused about how to treat us, but as the evening progressed I felt like we were increasingly being criminalized as they scrambled to receive direction from higher-ups in Washington. I was eventually released sometime after 3 am Saturday and told that green card holders were being treated on a case-by-case basis. I was lucky. I got out.
I think my position of privilege being affiliated with Stanford University shielded me from the kinds of ordeals others faced. Two of the men I sat with who were from Iran and Iraq, were deported back to Sweden where they had boarded their plane, despite having valid U.S visas. The Iraqi man had a fiancé visa and was waiting to be reunited with his fiancé and child. He was also eventually released. I heard of others who were detained for 30 hours.
It was heartbreaking to think about the implications this could have on their lives. Imagine being sent back to a war zone or to a place you fled due to political persecution.
I think this policy is misguided. I don’t think it will make the US safer. On the flip side, I think it is making many people in the US and abroad feel unsafe and afraid. It is tearing families apart. As of right now, my elderly parents who live in Sudan cannot apply for a visa to come and visit me. My sister, who is a dual Australian and Sudanese citizen living in Australia, cannot either. I do not feel safe leaving the country, so that leaves us all on three different continents unable to see each other.
“America is my kids’ country. This is my country. I am not a terrorist.”
Dima Jabri, 37, Syrian national, stay-at-home mom in Huntington Beach, California, green card holder
I haven’t seen my family for four years. My dad died in Syria two months ago and I couldn’t go. My mom is alone in Syria with my sister. She’s getting old and I’m really afraid I won’t be able to see her again. She keeps asking me, “Oh, do you have a green card? Oh, you’re safe, you’re safe!” I don’t want to tell her the news.
I escaped from Syria in 2012 — I was escaping from Syria for safety. When I came to the United States in 2013, I started from the beginning. I started to teach Arabic to some kids of close friends and I got a temporary status for Syrians. After two years, I met my husband, who is an American citizen. Through him, I just got my green card right after the election in 2016. Now we have a new baby, but no one from my family can come see the baby.
America is my kids’ country. This is my country. I am not a terrorist. I have worked hard for a good life. I wish this was not happening now. Every day I’m praying.
“Our life plans are up in the air, and our professional careers can be compromised”
30-year-old Iranian national, data scientist, based in the United States, H1b visa. Her fiancé, an Iranian national, was on a H1b visa, is grounded in Iran.
My fiancé went back to Iran to visit his family on Thanksgiving Day, and two months later, he has not yet received his visa. Up until January 27, every time he’d call, I would rush to the phone hoping he had a good news, that he is coming back. But the executive order last week poured water on my hopes. His case will not even be considered for at least another 90 days.
This means he cannot return to his home and live or work as he would do normally. Being apart the next 90 days of our lives will be dull and painful, but it’s the feeling of uncertainty and insecurity that frightens me the most. Our life plans are up in the air, and our professional careers can be compromised.
Should we let go of our home and life in the US, which we worked really hard for, and just leave, or have faith in the unpredictable future here in US? I keep asking myself how logical it will be now for us as Iranian immigrants to invest in our future here. Is this executive order the beginning of more and more obstacles on our way?
But despite this injustice, he and I are determined to stay positive and fight for what we have worked hard for, shoulder to shoulder with those who have made America America.
“It was supposed to be their first time coming to the United States”
Omid Kamyabi, 42, Iranian national, American citizen based in Washington, DC, area
My father-in-law is 67 and my mother-in-law is 59. We have been through this whole immigration visa process for them for almost a year, and finally now they have their immigrant visa — a package for a green card. The green card was supposed to be issued three weeks after they arrived in the United States. It was supposed to be their first time coming to the United States.
They had planned to come around March, because it’s the time of our Persian New Year, but when we heard about Trump’s executive order we rushed them to come to this country as soon as possible. The first flight we could find was KLM January 28, the day after the order was signed.
They got to Netherlands where they had about a six-hour layover. But at the time of boarding they couldn’t get on the plane. The airline stopped them, and at the same time immigration officers looking to enforce the new order were waiting at the gate to stop people.
They are now stuck in the Netherlands. We don’t want them to go back to Iran. Because of this unfair situation, we want them here with us.
I have been living in this country for 12 years. I feel deeply insulted, upset, and worried. And I feel unsafe. When they try to label us as terrorists, everyone starts looking at us, which is not true.
I feel like this is the beginning of disaster. We don’t know the depth of it and I’m not optimistic of the future. I don’t know what’s going on.
“Nobody should have to live in fear of family separation”
Manijeh Mahmoodzadeh, 25, child of an Iranian immigrant, developmental psychologist in Los Angeles, American citizen
My father was planning to travel to Tehran, Iran, in the coming weeks to attend his younger sister's wedding.
Baba moved to New York as a teenager to attend college; he is a green card holder who has lived in the US for over 30 years. Because his parents are both deceased, he wanted to be present for my aunt’s wedding.
While in Iran, Baba was hoping to visit the elders of our family, who are aging and may not have much longer to live. Because of Trump’s executive order, he may not be able to be with his sister for her wedding day or say goodbye to some of those loved ones. This may seem trivial, but for an immigrant who is separated from his entire family by 7,000 miles of land and sea, it is absolutely heartbreaking.
Unfortunately, it would be far more heartbreaking if my Baba were to go to Iran and couldn’t return home at the end of his trip. Nobody should have to live in fear of family separation like that.
Editor’s note: In a brief statement Sunday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said green card holders would be able to enter the country on a “case-by-case” basis, but many immigrants are still anxious they will be prevented from returning to the United States if they travel abroad.
Nesima Aberra contributed to this report.