One of the highest-profile individual stories on the night the administration’s immigration ban went into effect was that of Fullbright Scholar Vahideh Rasekhi, a linguistics graduate student at Stony Brook University. She was detained more than 16 hours when she tried to enter the country after returning from a visit to her parents in Tehran. When she was put on a flight for deportation after being denied entry, she and a team of volunteer lawyers managed to get the plane actually turned around on the tarmac as it was taxiing for takeoff, in compliance with a court order staying the deportation proceedings.[1] 

Rasekhi’s experience is far from the only way in which the immigration ban has directly affected linguists, personally and professionally. We’ve collected testimonials describing individual experiences below, and welcome others. Please email Simin Karimi or Heidi Harley to describe how the ban has affected you.

Professor Simin Karimi, University of Arizona

The executive order on travel issued on January 27, 2017 has affected personal and professional lives of so many students and researchers, including mine.  I am an Iranian-American with 26 years experience as a faculty member in the States.  Due to this ban, my professional life has been enormously affected for the following reasons.  My NSF funded project requires collecting data in Iranian languages.  I cannot conduct this research in Iran due to sanctions imposed on that country.  Sadly, a few universities in Europe are my only options.  My research assistants, two of them Iranian citizens on student visa, need to travel with me to Europe for this fieldwork.  The travel ban, however, will not allow them to reenter the country.  Thus I have to put this project on hold for now, wasting time and money.  Given the vagueness of the ban and the hourly modifications we have been observing, I am afraid of leaving the country myself, even as a US citizen.  I am not sure I will be able to reenter a county I have called ‘home’ for the last 36 years, simply because the fist page of my passport says ‘born in Iran’.  What is most incomprehensible  about this executive order is that it has nothing to do with national security, since none of the attacks on American soil has ever been performed by citizens of any of the affected countries. This is an unjustified and insane order with enormous tragic consequences.

Linguistics graduate student, University of Arizona

The ban affects my personal life in three ways:

  1. My wife is an MA student in the university of Calgary in Canada, but she is with me in Tucson now, doing her thesis from here. She's been going back and forth between the two cities for the past 18 months but she cannot do that anymore, because if she goes to Canada to meet her supervisor, she can't come back to live with me again. Obviously, we had planned our lives relying on the possibility of travel between the two countries; we would not register in schools in two different countries had we known the situation is going to change in this fashion.
  2. As a linguist there are field trips and conferences that I should go to (as I did last year, going to a conference in France and a language documentation field trip to Germany), and I had planned to travel to Canada for a conference this year, and maybe to Tajikistan for a language documentation project on the Yaghnabi language. Both these plans seem impossible now, unless I decide to never come back to the US again.
  3. My plan as of last month was to have less physical presence in Tucson in the next semester and travel between a new location (anywhere my wife gets a PhD admission) and Tucson regularly. With the new regulations, the new location can't be in the US because my wife will not be able to get a new American student visa, and if the new location is in Canada I won't be able to travel regularly. So our options right now are me leaving the US and never seeing my supervisor again, my wife not studying PhD, or the two of us living away from each other.

Linguistics graduate student, University of Arizona

I joined the Linguistics Ph.D. program at the University of Arizona in 2013. As an international student, I had the right to travel from/to the United States; however, I stayed in the US since I entered it in 2009 because of my national origin (I’m an Iraqi citizen) and knowing there might be a risk of not being able to re-enter the US had I left it. Now that the new administration has decided to ban my nationality (among others) from entering the US, I feel I’m stuck. On one hand, I’m happy to be able to finish my studies while I’m enrolled in my university but, on the other hand, I feel I’m imprisoned and in danger of being deported had the new US administration decided to stop the renewal of my student visa because of nationality as Iraqi.

Linguistics graduate student, University of Massachusetts Amherst

My parents, a teacher and a businessman, live in Iran. My only sibling, a younger brother, died just eight months ago of a stroke while mountain climbing. 

I chose to study in America despite being admitted into postgraduate linguistics programs in Iran. I promised, however, to visit my parents often, and obtained a multiple entry F-1 visa before moving to the United States in September 2016. 

I had planned to visit my parents again in late March during Norooz, a time of New Year observance in Iranian culture, when families traditionally come together to reflect and celebrate. We are still reckoning with my brother’s tragic death, so reuniting to comfort one another and our extended family is uniquely important this year. I also had planned to attend the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics in Calgary Canada. As a consequence of the EO, however, I am refraining from international travel because I am afraid I will be unable to return. 

Will Lewis, Computational Linguist, Microsoft Research

 A friend and long term collaborator of mine, Andy Way, of Dublin City University, was planning a visit to MSR with one of his students this summer as part of an EU funded project on using technology for humanitarian assistance (focusing primarily on the use of MT in the ongoing refugee crisis). Although we were running into some logistic issues internally with respect to hosting them here for the summer, Andy and I talked this morning, and he decided to cancel his visit (mind you, the visit was funded as part of the grant). The reason: the current confusion created by the Trump administration around visas, and the outright ban of travel from the 7 countries in his executive order. Andy noted that he has a few Iranian students, and one Somali, and rather than face potentially insurmountable visa issues (and god knows what else in the next few months), it was better to stay home. So, tell me, what good is this ban for our country when esteemed researchers are abandoning plans to visit our country, potentially shifting collaborations and projects away from our research institutions? What lasting impacts will declining enrollments to our universities, already evident in numbers of enrollees from China and Japan, who are instead applying elsewhere, have on our long-term competitiveness? What will the new H1B executive order have on the competitiveness and stature of our universities, along with research labs across our country? Tell me, because I fail to see any good outcomes.

Linguistics graduate student, Name of University Withheld

I am an Iranian first year PhD student in Linguistics. As my visa was issued for multiple entries, I could go back home at least in the summer as well as winter break. It expires in 2018 and I need to renew it to continue my studies. Moreover, I got married last month (when I was home for the winter break) and my husband was planning to come to the US on an F2 visa to support me emotionally which is the most significant factor for me to be successful in my studies. Unfortunately, the new order has destroyed our lives thoroughly! He will not be able to come anymore and I cannot go back home either (I have to stay here for at least 4.5 years,  if I can renew my visa in 2018 which is itself another problem). Words cannot express my feelings!

Linguistics graduate student, Stanford University

I’m an Iranian PhD student at Stanford. I’m planning to graduate in a year or so. The ban and the (likely) continuation of it would mean that I cannot attend conferences outside the US. It also means that I cannot visit my family and they cannot visit me or even attend my graduation ceremony. It is also likely that I cannot apply for research positions (of any sort) here in the US and if I find one elsewhere, I won’t be able to attend US conferences.

Applied linguistics graduate student. Newcastle University, UK. 

I have been living in the United Kingdom as an international student since 2007. I managed to earn different academic and training qualifications such as Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics, CELTA, Masters in Applied Linguistics and TESOL. I am currently in the final year of my PhD at Newcastle University. Recently, I was accepted to present as part of a colloquium at one of the respected international conference in my field. I applied for the U.S visa and I was informed at the end of the interview that my visa is approved. I was very worried at first since I am holding the nationality of one of the banned countries. However, three days later I received a refusal letter along with my passport. Before I received the letter, I tried to book a ticket to the U.S by first calling several airlines to check my situation. Unfortunately, more than three airlines did not agree to take me on their flights because of the executive order. Words cannot express my sadness!