An executive order signed Friday by President Donald Trump that indefinitely suspends the United States’ Syrian refugee program and temporarily blocks immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen resulted in chaos on Saturday.
While long-established plans for Syrian families to soon resettle in cities like Cleveland and Chicago quickly unraveled, between 100 to 200 green card and visa holders from the now-banned list of countries found themselves detained at airports across the U.S., sparking protests at John F. Kennedy, Washington Dulles, and Dallas/Fort Worth airports, among others. Although a stay was granted by a federal judge late Saturday night that halts “the deportations of valid visa holders after they have landed at a U.S. airport,” many, including one Upstate resident, are left wondering when — and how — they’ll be permitted re-entry.
Nazanin Zinouri, a data scientist at the Upstate business Modjoul who received a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Clemson University in 2016, was taken off a flight in Dubai that was destined for Washington D.C. Her return to the U.S. currently remains in question.
In a Facebook post that has garnered more than 120,000 shares, Zinouri says she arrived in Tehran, Iran, to visit family on Jan. 22, but the visit was cut short on Wednesday when news began to travel that an executive order on immigration could be imminent. In an email to the Greenville Journal, Zinouri said she “heard some rumors Wednesday night, but I didn’t hear anything from reliable sources.” Nonetheless, she still made plans to take the next available flight back to the U.S.
“Even though I didn’t want to leave my family, I quickly booked a ticket to get on the next flight back. Only a few hours after the order was signed, I got to the airport, got on a plane, and made it to Dubai,” Zinouri wrote on Facebook.
“I tried the next available flight, which was Friday … early morning, and I couldn’t board successfully [in] Dubai,” she told the Journal. “Unfortunately, the ban continues, and there are no solutions as of right now.”
“Yes, after almost seven years of living in the United States, I got deported!!!” Zinouri wrote in her post. “No one warned me when I was leaving, no one cared what will happen to my dog or my job or my life there. No one told me what I should do with my car that is still parked at the airport parking. Or what to do with my house and all my belongings. They didn’t say it with words but with their actions, that my life doesn’t matter. Everything I worked for all these years doesn’t matter.”
Read Zinouri’s Facebook post in full below:
Update, 6:46 p.m.:
A GoFundMe account has been set up for Ms. Zinouri in order to cover her legal expenses as she tries to re-enter the U.S.
On the page, Ms. Zinouri writes that upon enrolling in “one of the top ranked universities in Iran with full scholarship to study industrial engineering,” she knew she’d want to further pursue graduate-level study. After taking the TOEFL and GRE exams, she was accepted into a masters program at Northern Illinois University.
Zinouri traveled to Turkey for her visa interview and was approved following additional screenings. She was granted a F-1 student visa and arrived in the U.S. in August 2010. Zinouri remained in the country until May 2013, when she returned home to Iran following her father’s death in a car crash. Since her visa was single-entry, Zinouri had to reapply for a new visa, which was granted.
In fall 2013, she enrolled at Clemson University to pursue her Ph.D. in industrial engineering. During her time at Clemson, Zinouri says was granted a multiple-entry visa, which meant she could visit her family in Iran. She graduated from Clemson with her Ph.D. in August 2016. While at Clemson, she was awarded the Janine Anthony Bowen Graduate Fellow, which “recognizes outstanding academic performance by a student pursuing a MS or Ph.D. degree in industrial engineering.”
“I had my OPT on F1 and employment authorization form, legally enabling me to work and live in the United States. My company also started my green card application process,” Zinouri writes. When she departed for Tehran to visit family this month, she says, “I had a multiple entry F1 visa with valid OPT and employment authorization card. I had my employment letter and pay stubs, even my old visas just in case!”
“I humbly ask for your support in my return to the United States, to my home, my dog, my car, my career, and my friends. My story will be much like others who dedicated their lives to their dream – the American Dream – and whose intentions and lives were turned upside-down on Friday without notice or reason. I very much look forward to having the freedom to return to my home,” she states.
As of this writing, the GoFundMe account has been live for four hours and has raised $1,920. The goal is $30,000.
Update, 7:28 p.m.:
In a tweet, Sen. Lindsey Graham says, “We have been in touch with and are working to assist” Ms. Zinouri.
We have been in touch with and are working to assist Clemson graduate Nazanin Zinouri.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 30, 2017