In her Manayunk apartment, Sibia Ranjbar keeps a book that her second-grade teacher in Iran gave her as a gift. “Paulina: The World and the Stars,” by Ana María Matute, tells the story about a 10-year-old orphaned girl who is sent to live with her grandparents in the mountains.
Ranjbar, a master’s of biotechnology student, said she cherishes the character of the strong, young girl in times of strife. She thought of the character when President Donald Trump implemented a travel ban last week on seven countries, including her home country.
Before the federal judge in Seattle temporarily halted the ban, Ranjbar said she had “90 percent” forgotten about herself and its impact on her.
“Things weren’t too bad for me,” said Ranjbar, an Iranian citizen who is studying at Temple on a single-entry F1, or non-immigrant student visa. “I was just concerned about the bigger impact. The possibility of a new war, lots of people losing their lives because they were not able to come here, all of those refugees that are in war zones.”
On Jan. 27, Trump signed an executive order that banned entry into the United States for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. This past Friday, a federal judge in Seattle lifted the ban. On Monday evening, the Justice Department urged the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the travel ban, saying the attempt to block it was, “endangering national security and violating the separation of powers,” the New York Times reported.
At Temple, there are 55 students and 10 professors who are here on non-immigrant visas, which are affected by the executive order, said university spokesman Brandon Lausch. For students like Ranjbar, future travel plans and employment are uncertain.
Ranjbar came to Philadelphia from Tehran, Iran in 2011 to study for her Ph.D. in environmental engineering. She finished in December 2015 and decided to pursue a second master’s degree, which she will complete in May.
Since her visa status doesn’t allow her to leave the U.S., Ranjbar decided to file a petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to receive a green card or permanent residency citing her Ph.D. and research expertise.
USCIS approved her and she was in the process of receiving work authorization. But when the executive order was put into effect, her permanent residency application was put on hold.
“I was a legal resident of the United States, but I was not able to work,” Ranjbar said.
Ranjbar received an offer to start working after graduation, but without the proper paperwork, she cannot accept the job.
Ranjbar was also hoping to receive the proper travel documents so she could see her family after being apart for nearly six years.
“Since I came here, two of my grandparents passed away and I just have my one grandma left,” she said. “I just want to be able to see her before anything happens. It was so hard for me when the others passed and I couldn’t be with my family.”
The master’s student has a lawyer, but said because of the executive order’s vague language, her legal counsel doesn’t have a set direction yet.
Kimya Forouzan, a second-year law and master’s of public health student, is offering services as a foreign language interpreter to lawyers who are working with people stuck in airports. She said there is a Google document being shared nationally for lawyers and law students to share their contact information and nearby airports where they can provide assistance.
“I really would have a hard time believing that this could be seen as constitutional,” said Forouzan, who has dual citizenship with the U.S. and Iran. “It really does concern me that there seems to be this blatant disregard for the checks and balances in our government.”
Ranjbar and Martyn Miller, the interim assistant vice president of the Office of International Affairs, both said the current political climate has the potential to create new rumors, which can be problematic.
“There are rumors flying right now that countries have been added, so we just always have to tell them, ‘No, those are just rumors,’” Miller said. “Nothing is real until it’s actually published. We are also trying to help students distinguish between rumor and fact.”
Miller added that at this time, the International Affairs office is still advising students and professors not to travel.
Ranjbar said after reading the executive order for the first time, she was left with multiple questions: What is going to happen to her and her pending applications? How is the executive order going to impact people in Syria and Iraq who are dealing with a war?
She added that Trump tweeted several times about Iran this past week, which made her fearful of issues between the United States and her home country in the future.
“War is my red line,” she said. “[Iran] had an eight-year war 20 years ago, and people are still dealing with the consequences of that.”
Ranjbar said Temple’s response to the executive order made her feel supported. She received a couple emails from International Affairs, and she had a one-on-one meeting with Miller on Monday. There were also legal consulting sessions held on Main Campus and the Health Sciences Campus last week.
But she added that she could have used some emotional support, like a group counseling session, which would be helpful for students from the seven countries who are dealing with fear and uncertainty.
“My friends said they couldn’t study for the whole week, so … for them, just to give them space to talk about their fears, their concerns, just to be able to get over it and go back to their school stuff,” Ranjbar said.
Ranjbar has no plans to leave the country since her current visa does not allow her to do so, but she is hopeful that with the current halt on the executive order, her permanent residency application will get a fair chance.
“Even though I like the life I made here or built for myself, my boyfriend is American, lots of my friends are American, I consider this place my home, but it’s OK,” Ranjbar said. “I can go live somewhere else, but that’s my right to be able to plan for my life, and that was the first thing that was completely off the table.”
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emilyivyscott.