Following the January 27 signing of President Donald Trump’s executive order, widely referred to as an immigration ban, Emad Khazraee was fearful for democracy.
The president barred entry for citizens from seven middle east countries — Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria — and banned Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.
Khazraee, an Iranian immigrant and assistant professor at Kent State, was one of many Americans who opposed the ban. Thousands of protesters gathered at airports across the country, sites where many travelers were restricted from traveling, to or from home, if they were native to one of the seven countries.
Legislative opponents reacted quickly, and on February 9, the Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals upheld the ruling that blocked the immigration ban, a decision initiated by U.S. District Court Judge James Robart only six day earlier.
It’s been three months since the order was blocked, and the travel ban soon proved to be the first of a slew of controversial decisions made by the president. However, the effects are not lost on Khazraee.
“I think (the ban) is a real big challenge, and I have this idea that I’m thinking about,” he said. “I call it ‘the enemies of democracy.’”
Khazraee sited Trump’s leadership and legislation as reason to put the U.S. in company with other countries with unorthodox rulers; Russia and the Philippines, for example.
“While these are different groups, they share one thing in common,” he said. “That being an enemy of democracy, and they want to undermine democratic values. I believe to replace democracy with something they claim is democracy… it is the tyranny of the majority.”
Specifically citing the travel ban, he said that a loss of democracy creates a society that is in limbo. While the immigration ban was stopped, there is still a reason for many to have their guard up. Because Khazraee and his wife are Iranian immigrants, while they can now travel “in theory,” they’ve still been advised to refrain from going overseas.
He had to cancel plans to travel to the U.K., Columbia and India, all trips connected to his profession in academia. However, he was still able to keep the engagements by teaching his lessons over Skype. His session with internet activists in New Delhi — a lecture about information policy — lasted from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
“They want to contain us. They want to create these barriers, but in this day and age, we can find a way to go beyond the borders, and that’s the whole point that they’re not getting,” Khazraee said.
Khazraee and his wife welcomed a son early this year. The 5-month-old recently said his first word, but moments like these also create disappointment. Khazraee’s mother-in-law is unable to travel to Ohio from Iran because she can’t obtain a visa. While the family wishes for her to be with them to witness their son’s many firsts, communication is limited to smartphones.
“It is not a moment we can share with our parents because they cannot come. We have to share videos,” he said.
Michael Taylor, a marketing and communications specialist in Kent State’s Office of Global Education (OGE), said the university is doing its best to be there for students, who like Khazraee, are dealing with the ramifications of Trump’s executive order.
During the spring 2017 semester, the university had 75 students enrolled from the seven banned countries. In January, OGE advised students not to travel and offered help to all students who reached out with worries or questions. However, since then, the university hasn’t been able to make much progress.
“The problem that we quite frankly have right now is the uncertainty going forward with things,” Taylor said. “We’re coming up on the summer where things will be changing a little bit. Students will need to go home, but it’s a situation of a uncertainty as of what to tell the students from the standpoint of (Optional Practical Training) and some other issues dealing with their status in the United States… Right now we don’t know what’s gonna transpire in the long-term in regards to those orders. At this time, we’re unable to tell the students with a great deal of uncertainty what to do.”
OPT is federal authorization for student visa holders to remain in the U.S. because of temporary employment. For students graduating in the fall, the threat of losing OPT takes them out of employment consideration, threatening the future of their careers.
Khazraee said that this not only affects students, but various American industries that depend on the work of individuals from overseas.
“They can join to make United States the most competitive in the international market,” he said. “The smartest and the brightest that prefer to come to the United States, because it’s like a democratic society and it has lots benefits, and work for your company. So now, if you block that road… in the long run it hurts the U.S. economy.”
Taylor said the majority of student that come to OGE with concerns are focused on how their education will be affected. They are looking to get to the end of the semester, specifically May graduates.
Looking to the upcoming fall 2017 semester, Taylor said there is a drop in international student enrollment, a fact that universities across the country are facing.
“I think it’s a situation where students are both from the standpoint of the rhetoric that went on with the last year’s election — the couple orders the way they were established and communicated — international students across the board are having to reconsider their decisions about coming to the United States,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’ve got the other English speaking countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, are really jumping on this quite frankly; trying to show that they’re more welcoming to the international students than the United States right now.”
Khazraee, out of necessity, must remain in the United States. There is still opportunity for him here: he has recently been awarded a fellowship at Harvard University. It begins in July, and he and his family are moving to Boston for a year. But again, with accomplishment comes apprehension.
“You also have to deal with all this anxiety. When you get these things, you should get excited, you should celebrate it, but it’s only been a few months and we’re not in a celebratory mood. Nothing really cheers us up because we are facing this limbo,” he said.