Dozens of students at Florida International University have suddenly found their lives in disarray following President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring the citizens of seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The order effectively amounts to a temporary but forced separation from their families for close to 200 students, faculty and staff at FIU. Many say they had to cancel travel plans following Friday’s order, which prevents citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days.
FIU is home to 149 students and 43 faculty and staff from the affected countries, most of them Iranian citizens who now face a difficult decision over whether to continue their studies in the United States where their families cannot visit.
On Wednesday, Iranian students were among a group of roughly 60 people at FIU’s West Miami-Dade campus protesting the executive order. Waving signs and chanting, “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!” the protesters gathered in front of FIU’s Graham Center and called on the university to protect international students and faculty.
Mostafa Batouli, an Iranian Ph.D. student, was among the protesters. Batouli and his wife finished their doctorates in civil engineering in December, but decided not to graduate until May, when their families could come from Iran for commencement. Batouli’s parents had visa interviews scheduled for Feb. 5 in the United Arab Emirates, since there is no U.S. embassy in Iran, and had already paid for their flights and booked their hotels when they learned about the executive order. Their interviews were abruptly canceled.
“It’s shocking for me,” Batouli said. He and his wife are permanent U.S. residents, but they are now thinking of moving somewhere else. “The only reason we migrated from our homeland is because we did not want to live in a country in which the government suppresses its own people,” he said. “Now we see we are living in the exact same situation.”
The White House has defended the executive order as a temporary security measure to keep individuals with possible ties to terrorism from entering the country.
But FIU and other South Florida universities have issued statements in support of international students affected by the ban. In a memo sent on Monday, FIU Provost Kenneth G. Furton called for the university to “come together to support those among us who may be feeling particularly vulnerable during this uncertain time” and urged students and staff from the impacted countries to postpone any international travel plans.
It seems like if they don’t want me to be here, I should consider another plan.
Elnaz, an Iranian student at FIU who is considering finishing her Ph.D. in another country
Elnaz, an Iranian Ph.D. student at the protest who declined to give her last name, began to cry as she explained that she had planned to travel to Iran over the summer for a family wedding, but was now afraid that if she did, she would be unable to reenter the United States. She said she had once hoped to use her engineering degree in the United States, but was now thinking of finishing her studies elsewhere.
“It seems like if they don’t want me to be here, I should consider another plan,” she said. “If it’s going to be like this, I would prefer to be somewhere where I can visit my family.”
For Vahid Abedini, an Iranian getting his Ph.D. in international relations, the executive order has disrupted his research. Abedini was studying how the younger generation in Iran views U.S. policies in the Middle East. After three years of working on his dissertation, “I have to change it because I cannot go there and collect any data,” he said.
Nearby, Hoda Rajaei held a sign with a photo of an Iranian NASA scientist as she stood alongside her husband, Mohammad Moravej. Rajaei is completing her Ph.D. in electrical engineering and researching treatments for people with neurological diseases, while Moravej is researching how to mitigate hurricane wind hazards for a Ph.D. in civil engineering. The couple said they feel they are providing a public service in the United States.
“It’s a bitter feeling of disrespect,” said Moravej. “With the research we are doing, we are improving safety.”