International students reeling from Trump travel ban

Jan. 30, 2017, 12:20 a.m.

Mostafa Afkhamizadeh was in Iran with his family when he heard he may not return to Stanford.

A fifth-year Ph.D. student in management science and engineering, Afkhamizadeh visited Tehran for the first time in two years during a leave of absence over winter quarter. He had no idea President Donald Trump would suspend citizens from seven countries (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Yemen) from entry into the United States for 90 days.

Even if the ban is eventually lifted, Afkhamizadeh still faces the prospect of extending his leave of absence for another quarter and incurring a loss of over $1,000 in health insurance. If not, he may lose his degree altogether just a year away from his expected graduation date.

“It’s out of my hands,” said Afkhamizadeh.

Afkhamizadeh’s predicament is shared by many other Stanford students. On the same day the executive order was announced, Bechtel International Center advised students from the affected countries “not to travel outside the U.S. at this time” in an email to the international community at Stanford.

In the aftermath of the announcement, other students suddenly faced the possibility of indefinite separation from their families and the loss of careers they had secured after graduation.

Hadil Mansoor Al-Mowafak ’20, a married undergraduate from Yemen, was stunned by the order. Her husband is currently in Yemen and was planning to come to the United States next year as she completes her degree, but is now barred from entering the country. Al-Mowafak is unable to visit him without potentially losing the chance to finish her education.

Students like Afkhamizadeh and Al-Mowafak applied to Stanford in hopes of obtaining an excellent education — in Yemen, for example, the ongoing civil war has closed universities and made it difficult for Al-Mowafak to obtain a degree.

“I feel like I’m being trapped,” Al-Mowafak said. “You just don’t expect to stay four years away from the person you love. It’s really hard. And that’s why I’m not believing this.”

Third-year Ph.D. candidate Khashayar Khosravi and his fiancée, both of whom hold Iranian citizenship, were in the midst of planning their wedding for this summer when the order came from the White House.

“Everyone [tries] to be optimistic — should I be optimistic?” said Khosravi. “They say, ‘Oh give it a little bit of time. Maybe after these three months things could get better,’ but why do you think so? We don’t know what’s going to happen. If the order remains, students [and] families right now are separated because of this.”

Other international students who had hoped to stay and work in the United States after graduation also saw their certainties collapse.

A fifth-year Ph.D. student from Iran, who prefers to remain anonymous, had accepted a job offer from one of the large tech companies in the Bay Area and was preparing for his H1-B visa application through his company. He now fears that both his job offer and his work status will be taken away from him.

“When I heard about the executive order, I felt completely depressed,” said the student. “I didn’t want to get out of bed.”

The consequences of the order have already been felt by some students. A Sudanese graduate student with a green card who was on a flight from Sudan to the United States when the order was first issued found herself detained at John F. Kennedy airport in New York for five hours and handcuffed by officials.

Beyond the practical consequences, many affected students felt suddenly marginalized in a place where they had once felt welcome.

“I came to the U.S. because I thought here they hold values that they couldn’t have in my own country,” said the unnamed student from Iran. “I came here because I wasn’t welcome in my own country and I’m completely shocked that now I’m not welcome here.”


According to an email from last Friday, Bechtel staff worked with immigration law experts at the Stanford Law School pro bono to discuss the situation on Friday evening. A later announcement noted that a session for affected students will tentatively take place on Thursday at the Law School, and Vaden Health Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) will offer special drop-in hours.

Beyond the immediate situation, many members of the Stanford community have made gestures of protest or support for affected students.

In an email to the Stanford community at large, the President, Provost and incoming Provost “reiterate[d] [Stanford’s] community values” in response to the order.

“As an academic institution with students and scholars from around the world, Stanford values and in fact depends upon the flow of students, educators and researchers across borders,” read the message. “The current situation is causing deeply regrettable alarm and uncertainty for many people who are part of the academic community here in the United States.”

The private message was supplemented by a public statement of support for the international and undocumented community released on Sunday evening. Among other key points of support, the statement emphasized that the University would continue to keep student records private from law enforcement authorities and would not participate in immigration enforcement with other agencies, unless legally required to do so.

Meanwhile, students faculty and alumni have personally taken action in support of affected community members.

Last Tuesday, students organized a demonstration against [the order] that saw a crowd of about 80 people at White Plaza. Faculty affiliated with the Jewish Studies program have also issued an open statement condemning the executive order directly, calling it a “scandal to our democratic culture” and suggesting that its release on Holocaust Memorial Day made the rejection of refugees particularly egregious. One international MBA student, who has been granted anonymity due to sensitivity concerns regarding his application for permanent U.S. residency, also started a petition calling on Stanford to protect the privacy and safety of student, alumni and faculty.

Some students who were personally impacted by the executive action drew strength from defending the rights of others. A Ph.D. student from Iran who chose to remain anonymous said that he joined a protest at San Francisco International Airport in support of detainees to put himself in their shoes.

Upon hearing protesters chanting “No walls,” he began to cry.

“I still believe in these people,” the student said. “It hasn’t changed my views about the U.S.”

According to second-year Ph.D. student Koosha Nassiri Nazif, who serves as president of the Persian Student Association, the group has collected student concerns and presented them to the school administration, and organized panels on Sunday to provide support for students.

Professor Abbas Milani, who was born in Iran and serves as director of Iranian studies, sees the protests as a promising bastion of democracy amid bleak times.

“The beauty of American system is checks and balances and civil society,” said Milani. “The stronger the civil society is, the less likely [we are] to have authoritarian tendency of any administration.”

Some students from targeted countries believe that they are not alone in their fears following the executive order.

“American should care, because [this executive order] also affects them,” said Al-Mowafak. “Trump is everything against they have fought [for] all their lives, the liberty, the freedom of people … these kinds of incidents don’t just affect certain people. They affect everyone.”

Correction: An earlier version of the article mistakenly stated that the University had not released a public statement of support for affected international students. As of Sunday night, a public statement has been released and the article has been updated to reflect this information. The Daily regrets this error.

Update 6/22/19: The international MBA student who started a petition calling on Stanford to protect the privacy and safety of student, alumni and faculty was granted post-publication anonymity due to sensitivity concerns regarding his ongoing application for permanent U.S. residency.

Contact Celia Chen at xinuo ‘at’ and Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’

Celia Chen is a sophomore from Hangzhou, China, studying philosophy. She has covered news for the Daily, and after feeling inspired by various experiences in her freshman year, she decided to have a personal voice and join the Opinions. In her column, she writes things dear to her, including culture, justice and meaning of existence. In her spare time, she likes to jam with friends, take colorful pictures and take on adventures.

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