By Kit Fitzgerald | firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite having his girlfriend, brother, and belongings in the United States, University of Iowa graduate student Farzad Salamifar was banned from entering the country.
Salamifar was born in Iran but came to Iowa City on a student visa in 2011 to obtain a doctorate in French. He lived here for five years before traveling to France in August 2016 to teach and research.
Two weeks after President Trump’s inauguration, Salamifar heard about the executive order that bars foreign nationals from Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Iraq for 90 days, all refugees for 120 days, and Syrian refugees indefinitely from entering the country.
“The new regulation affected [Iranian] community immediately,” Salamifar said. “I couldn’t plan for anything.”
After hearing about the ban, Salamifar reached out to UI International Student & Scholar Services, which put him in touch with Student Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties Union, he said.
“First of all, my girlfriend is here,” he said. “A lot of my belongings are in storage units, and in order to finalize my doctorate and research, I needed to be here. Also, my brother is here.”
Salamifar’s brother Sean Salamifar was also born in Iran but is now an American citizen living in Omaha, working as a research pharmacist.
When Farzad Salamifar left for France, his brother was aware the of political tension.
“I knew the situation was changing, so I warned him; I told him be careful,” he said. “I know [he] had a visa, but I don’t [think] that things will be stable.”
The family had to suddenly rethink a lot of their plans, he said.
“[Farzad Salamifar] was supposed to come back and graduate and find a job,” Sean Salamifar said. “And we were planning on bringing my mom and sister here so [my sister] could get a Ph.D.”
Lee Seedorff, the senior associate director of International Student & Scholar Services, worked with Farzad Salamifar, as well as Christopher Malloy, the senior attorney and director of Student Legal Services.
Malloy worked on keeping Salamifar informed on the changing policies.
“I was connected to a nationwide informal network of immigration attorneys who were sharing information, all trying to get people back in the country,” Malloy said. “Any University of Iowa students who are adversely affected by this and want our help, we want to do anything we can to help.”
After a judicial review temporarily lifted the executive order, Malloy helped Salamifar make plans to return to the United States. He did so with the help of many people, he said.
The ACLU provided attorneys to prevent the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from interrogating or detaining anyone, Salamifar said. A not-for-profit attorney named Samantha Phillips drove for 45 minutes to give him a ride to his housing. Plus, Salamifar was reimbursed by Airbnb for his one night in Boston.
“There was a lot of support,” Salamifar said. “A lot of people got involved and tried to help out.”
He was disappointed by the executive order; it created chaos, he said.
“I was also worried, not about myself, but all of the other communities who were affected, especially the refugees,” Salamifar said. “At moments, [the help] was really selfless and was about what happens to others.”
Salamifar said he was better off than others. Many Iranian scholars traveling abroad doing research had families in America that they couldn’t see.
“It was shocking to the Iranian community,” Salamifar said. “Many were being rejected by this country even though they were functional individuals, highly educational and very efficient [in society].”
However, Salamifar said he does not feel discouraged. The support and behavior of the American people gave him a sense of purpose.
“My girlfriend, who is from Iowa, was very committed to staying here and trying to make a difference,” he said. “So, many moments I was so moved that I feel a deep sense of belonging and I feel more resolute to stay here and make a positive difference.”