‘It is Scary to See How the World Can Change in One Night’

Trump’s ban on the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. threw lives into chaos. Even with the ban suspended, three women describe here the uncertainty that has gripped their lives, not knowing what will happen next to their jobs or families.

Written by Marina Watson Peláez Published on February 13, 2017 Read time Approx. 5 minutes
President Trump's travel ban has been temporarily suspended by the U.S. courts, but it continues to cause concern for hundreds of people frightened to travel in case a new order is put in place. Photo by AP/Rick Bowmer

When President Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 27 banning the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., confusion reigned as people found themselves barred from returning to their homes in the U.S. or stuck in the country, unsure they would be able to get back in if they left.

A week later, a Washington state district court temporarily suspended the ban, allowing travelers from the countries on the banned list – Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan – to resume their U.S.-bound flights.

After an appeals court in San Francisco ruled that the ban cannot be enforced, and Trump vowed to continue to fight for the ban, nobody is sure how long the travel window will stay open or if and when another ruling will be in force. The uncertainty has its own impact on the lives of people from the seven banned countries – maybe not as dramatic as the ban itself, which was nominally designed to keep potential terrorists out of the country, but no less stressful or unsettling.

We spoke to three women who have been left in limbo by the legal battle over the ban, forced to suspend business trips and holidays and kept apart from their families.

Salimeh Maghsoudlou, 33, Iranian lecturer at Yale University

Salimeh Maghsoudlou teaches at Yale and used to travel every two weeks to visit her husband in Montreal. The university has advised her not to travel until there is more clarity on the situation. (Courtesy of Salimeh Maghsoudlou)

My husband and I have been in Canada for two years, but I only finished my PhD in Paris last January. Last September, I moved to New Haven, Connecticut, to take up a job at Yale. I got a multiple-entry visa, so I could go to Montreal every two weeks and stay with my husband for the weekend.

But the ban rips away from me the possibility of going back to Montreal. I can go out of the U.S., but I might not be able to re-enter. Since my husband is also Iranian, he also cannot come here. I don’t know what will happen, and if it continues and I go back to Montreal during the summer vacation, I might not be able to return here to my job.

So I have to choose between being with my husband and my job.

The suspension of the ban has not made any great difference in my case, because the Department of Homeland Security has announced that certain types of visas like mine are revoked. This means that, theoretically, I can still get entry to the U.S. if I travel [out of it], but since my current visa would not be considered valid, I must apply for a new visa. And with the current situation there is not any guarantee that I will get the visa. So the Yale Office of International Scholars still encourages us not to travel outside the U.S.

Nahla Gadalla, 41, Executive director at Sudanese American Medical Association

Nahla Gadalla has a green card but was questioned for 20 minutes when she re-entered the U.S. while the ban was in place. (Courtesy of Nahla Gadalla)

I have been living in Virginia for almost five years. When the ban was announced, I was in Sudan on a business trip. I read the story in the news and it said only visa holders from these seven countries would be banned, but I have a green card so I didn’t think it would affect me – until I was due to fly the next evening. Just two hours prior to the flight, I learned that green card holders were being detained, questioned and in some cases being denied entry.

The media was saying green card holders were being dealt case by case, so I wanted to try, as I had left my kids and my whole life in the U.S. I arrived after a 30-hour trip. At passport control, the immigration officer just asked me how long I had stayed in Sudan and then stamped my passport and gave it back to me. But I noticed he had marked my landing card with a pink letter R.

At customs, I was asked general questions and after around 20 minutes I was allowed to proceed. It was only 20 minutes, but it was a stressful procedure.

I now have to think very carefully about traveling again, although my job requires me to travel several times a year. My next trip is in July, so hopefully by then things will be clear. But even my 8-year-old son and my 6-year-old daughter have been discussing this. We had plans to go on holiday to the U.K. or back to Sudan, but now they are suggesting we go to Florida instead.

My parents visit every year and were planning to visit this spring, but I don’t know what is happening now. And my sister is on a student visa doing her medical training and she is now uncertain, asking herself what comes next.

Samira Samimi, 30, Iranian glaciology PhD student at University of Calgary

Samira Samimi says she came to the West from Iran to find freedom but now her PhD has been in flux because of political uncertainty in America. (Courtesy of Samira Samimi)

I am a permanent resident of Canada, but now my passport is in Denmark because I have an Iranian passport and need a Schengen visa to go to Europe. My PhD work has to be carried out in Greenland, so it isn’t even related to the U.S. But my fieldwork is funded by NASA through the University of Colorado, and the plan was that in April I would go to Albany and fly with the U.S. Air National Guard to Greenland. What then happened with the Trump ban is that they said I would not be able to go to the U.S. anymore to get onto the flight there.

Now it seems [the ban] changed, but I don’t know what to do, because I don’t have my passport and the U.S. is so unstable. Every day there are changes and the courts and government are fighting against each other. If everything is OK, I can apply for a visa. If not, I have to find a way to get a commercial flight to Greenland. But the problem is that to get the second U.S. Air National Guard plane, I don’t know if they require me to have a U.S. visa.

This is my whole four years of my PhD at stake. And I don’t even want to go to the United States – I just want to go one night to Albany to get my flight.

It is scary to see how the world can change in one week or one night. I came from the other side of the planet to have freedom. Science doesn’t know politics or religion and now I see how politics are going this far, affecting science and international collaboration.

  • ‘Tis Moi

    I’m still recovering from even reading, “president” in the same sentence with, reality-host failure, business-failure, income tax hiding, sociopath, “Donald Chump”….ugh….How far the USA has fallen.