The widespread fear and shock surrounding President Donald Trump’s ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations and all refugees resonated directly with CU Boulder students, some of whom have family histories dominated by immigration narratives. CU has about 75 students and scholars with university-sponsored visas who are from the countries affected by the ban, according to the Daily Camera.
“[My family] always told me the beauty of America is it’s a place of acceptance and opportunities, and my family and I were lucky enough to have that opportunity,” said Mercell Enayat, a second-generation Afghani CU student and president of CU’s Middle Eastern Students Association.
Her parents immigrated to the United States nearly 30 years ago with the intention of establishing a sense of security that would not have been possible in war-torn Afghanistan.
Aspirations of becoming integrated into the U.S. often take years, if not a lifetime, to realize for many immigrants. The tedious process required to become a permanent resident involves significant time commitments that present obstacles for those seeking citizenship. CU Chancellor Philip DiStefano posted a message on the university’s Facebook page on Jan. 29 — two days after Trump signed the ban — in support of CU’s affected students, arguing that CU does not believe the ban should affect the status of students already in the country.
“My grandfather, at age 93 — the last thing he did was become an American citizen,” said Nima Parsaye, an Iranian CU student. “He was so proud that he would bring [the documents] out at parties to show ‘Look, it says it here I’m an American.’”
Parsaye came to the U.S. as a young child, though his family had emigrated before.
In post-Sept. 11 America, hate crimes against individuals perceived as Muslims or Middle Eastern rose sharply. According to data from the FBI, the years 2000 and 2001 showed a drastic difference with hate crimes against Muslims increasing 17 times the amount they were in 2000 in that one-year period. In 2015, hate crimes against Muslims skyrocketed by nearly 78 percent in 2014, according to a study by California State University, San Bernardino. Now, some say the ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries will expand prejudice against Muslims.
To many foreigners, the U.S. used to symbolize freedom and opportunity, but now appears blemished following the news of Trump’s executive order.
“It breaks my heart that there are other people in the Middle East who are living in terrible conditions with war in their backyard, and they won’t be able to take advantage of the same opportunity we did,” Enayat said.
According to many students, the privilege of being an American, especially one who is natural-born, represents an experience shielded from censorship and repression.
“A lot of people who are born in America and have that experience their whole lives don’t understand or respect it,” Parsaye said in reference to the inherent freedoms given to natural-born citizens.
Relative to the countries from which some students immigrate, some view their natural-born peers as lacking the perspective that comes from living in a region where political dissent is criminalized.
“[They] wanted to come out of fear of the government of Iran taking away freedom that they were accustomed to originally,” Parsaye said of why his family’s decision to move after the Iranian Revolution.
Following the revolution, the rights enjoyed by many of its citizens were substituted in favor of a repressive set of fundamentalist Islamic laws.
Some students now fear that if they leave the country, they will not be allowed to return.
“We’re fearful of leaving the U.S.,” said Muntadher Alzayer, a Saudi Arabian international student and president of the CU chapter of Project Nur, a group that works to promote a positive image of Islam.
Beyond ties to heritage and personal history, the ban creates issues regarding plans for seeing family members across borders.
“I was supposed to go back in the summer for a possible wedding — my brother’s wedding — and that’s been put on hold,” Alzayer said.
The ban leaves family members already in the U.S. unable to return to their home countries and unsure of how to proceed.
“My grandma is visiting for Norooz [a celebration of the Persian New Year] and she has to go back, but she can’t,” Parsaye said.
His family has helped other relatives enter the U.S. over the years and is aware of the detailed process coming to America.
However, some students directly affected by the ban have found that the public reaction reveals a source of hope in the midst of popular Islamophobic and anti-Middle Eastern rhetoric.
Yemeni CU student Musaab Al-bakry recalls how after the announcement of the ban, he received an outpouring of support. “The ban showed me the real values of people around me,” Al-bakry said. “Thank you Trump, because you showed me how kind the American people are.”
Contact CU Independent News Reporter Heidi Harris at Heidi.Harris@colorado.edu.