Future uncertain for SIU students affected by Trump’s travel ban


Morgan Timms

Omer Elsanusi, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering from Khartoum, Sudan, arranges flags from more than 30 different countries Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, after the annual International Parade of Flags in the Student Center ballroom. Elsanusi and his wife, Asia Abobaker, marched with their country’s flag during the parade. Sudan was one of the seven countries banned from the United States in President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders. “It was great to participate in this multicultural event and to be part of this community,” Elsanusi said. “It makes you feel like home to some extent, especially in the current circumstances. Especially when you are supported by such great people. I think that’s what really matters.” (Morgan Timms | @Morgan_Timms)

By Marnie Leonard

It has been nearly five years since Abdulsamad Humaidan,  a curriculum and instruction doctoral candidate from Taiz, Yemen, has seen his father, siblings, nieces and nephews back in his home country.

“I miss [my country] so much.” Humaidan said. “I am here alone.”

Though he planned to visit his family over the summer, Humaidan said an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Jan. 27 has made that prospect unlikely.


The order put an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees coming into the country, blocked all refugee entry for 120 days and barred anyone from the Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from coming to the U.S. for three months.

Now, if Humaidan leaves the country, he might not be allowed back in.

On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security said it had stopped its enforcement of the ban following a Seattle judge’s ruling that issued a temporary nationwide stay against the executive order. Trump’s administration said that the order is legal and it will appeal the judge’s decision.

In a statement, interim Chancellor Brad Colwell said the administration will do everything within its legal power to support its international students.

In response to this, members of the Graduate and Professional Student Council said the university should “go beyond simple assurances of support” by showing “concrete visible actions.”

Over the past 40 years, no U.S. citizen has been killed by anyone from the seven countries included in the ban, according to a report released after the order by the Cato Institute, a public policy think-tank. Seventeen people from these countries were convicted for participating in terror attacks in the United States during the same 40-year period, the report found.

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” the president tweeted Saturday.

The case was scheduled to go before federal appeals court on Tuesday.


Humaidan said due to the confusion surrounding the ban, his family calls him every day asking the same questions.

“‘Are they going to ask you to leave the country or can you stay? Are they deporting you or not?’” Humaidan said. “It has been, and still is, a big question for me. At this moment I am lost.”

Humaidan said his goal for years has been to earn his doctoral degree in the United States so he could go back to Yemen and help train teachers. In 2012 he was awarded a Fulbright grant — an educational scholarship that funds researchers and students learning abroad. When this happened, Humaidan said he felt like his “dreams were coming true.”

“Getting my doctorate here would be a wonderful thing in my life,” Humaidan said. “But not being able to stay and finish would be the biggest loss for me.”

The executive order follows through on a campaign promise Trump made to tighten border security and begin extreme vetting of immigrants. It is intended to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the country, the president said the day the ban was put in place.

Following the order’s enactment, travelers from the seven banned countries were detained at major national and international airports, spurring worldwide protests. Among the detainees were green-card holding legal residents of the United States and those here studying on student visas. The State Department estimated more than 60,000 visas had been revoked since the ban was signed.

Uncertain of whether the ban will be overturned or upheld, student-visa holders at SIU remain concerned about their future in the United States.

“It feels unfair,” said Asia Abobaker, a Sudanese graduate student of mechanical engineering. “It makes me sad, mainly. I cannot understand why my people are included in this ban.”

Abobaker, a practicing Muslim, said the ban made her feel unwelcome and targeted for her religion. As she prepares to graduate in May, her parents, brothers and sister-in-law were supposed to visit Carbondale to see the ceremony. Under the ban, they wouldn’t be allowed into the country.

“This is part of my devastation,” Abobaker said. “It’s my graduation. I planned for that and I really wanted them to be here.”

Of the 1,263 international students at the Carbondale campus, 88 are from the seven countries listed in Trump’s executive order. SIU, through a statement provided by spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith, is not aware of any of these students currently traveling outside of U.S. or studying abroad in any of these countries.

Faraz Farbakhsh, a master’s student studying mining engineering from Tehran, Iran, has been in the United States four years. He is petitioning to graduate, and is looking elsewhere to earn his doctorate because of the immigration ban.

“It’s not just me — everyone I know is considering going to other countries, even those who are legal residents in the U.S.,” Farbakhsh said. “They’re thinking of going to Canada, Australia, anywhere else.”

Top immigration officials in Trump’s administration have indicated that the temporary immigration ban could be extended indefinitely for some countries on the list. For Farbakhsh, a member of the Iranian Student Association, a doctorate degree would take at least five years to complete, meaning such a ban would keep him from visiting his sister and parents in Iran.

“I’m sure my mother can’t stand not seeing me for another two or three or five years,” said Farbakhsh, who hasn’t been home since he moved to the U.S. “Right now, things are difficult.”

Graduate student Azadeh Amiri, an Iranian studying mechanical engineering, plans to finish her master’s degree this semester. Amiri has been in the United States for two years, but said she is now looking at graduate programs in Europe.

She said she felt welcome during her first year in the United States.

“I think that is changing now,” Amiri said.

Amiri is the president of the Iranian Student Association on campus. She said if Trump’s main concern is protecting the country from terrorism, he isn’t going about it the right way.

“My people are not dangerous for the United States,” she said.

Staff writer Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

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