AMHERST — Mohsen Hosseini, an Iranian graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, returned to Iran over winter break to get married. Whether or not he will ever return to Amherst — to his work, his friends, his car, his home — remains uncertain.
Two other members of the UMass community, an Iranian undergraduate student and a visiting scholar from Syria, are also being prevented from returning to UMass due to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump Saturday, which barred citizens from seven enumerated countries from entering the United States for at least 90 days, according to UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.
Hosseini remains in Tehran and has tried to board a flight several times since Trump signed the executive order, but to no avail.
“It is a really big problem for me, and it can destroy all of my planning for my life,” Hosseini said in an email to Amherst Wire.
Airlines at Imam Khomeini International airport in Tehran continue to enforce the executive order, even after a federal judge in Boston ruled that valid visa holders like Hosseini should be allowed entrance at Logan International Airport for seven days. They are holding out until further litigation can be held on the matter.
“We are still just praying he can get on a plane,” said Mohammad Ghadiri Sadrabadi, a fellow Iranian and close friend of Hosseini.
“If you cannot get on a plane, there is no hope. You cannot swim to America,” Sadrabadi said in an interview Sunday.
Officials at UMass have been in close contact with Hosseini, and the other community members and are attempting to help them regain entry.
“Thanks to the kind support of my supervisor, the [International Programs Office] and other Iranian students, I never feel alone in the current problem,” Hosseini said.
Officials from the administration have offered to pay Hosseini’s rent while he remains stuck in Iran, according to Sadrabadi. The university is trying to help these individuals “assess the president’s order and what means they might pursue to gain legal entry to the United States,” Blaguszewski said.
Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy vowed in a statement released Monday that the administration will “do everything within our legal and moral authority to protect our community members,” according to Blaguszewski.
Trump’s decree also carries serious implications for Iranian students in Amherst. UMass is home to 77 Iranian nationals— 72 of which who are graduate students — along with one undergraduate student and four scholars.
There are also two graduate students from Syria and one graduate student from Sudan at UMass who are directly affected by the executive order.
Mohsen Jalili, an Iranian Ph.D. candidate in the political science department, planned to travel to Afghanistan in May to do field work for his dissertation.
Now, he may have to abandon the thesis he has worked on for two years.
“I now have to consider alternative ideas,” Jalili said by telephone Sunday. “If I leave I will not be able to come back. It’s very tough. But my problems are the least of it. There are people here who haven’t seen their families in years. This forces us to make some very difficult decisions.”
Jalili said there is “a strong sense of fear and frustration in the Iranian community here,” which he described as tight-knit.
“We all know each other. We’re all friends,” he said.
Jalili is not very optimistic about the situation for Iranians in America under the Trump administration.
“I don’t think there is a future for us Iranians here if it’s going to be like this. This may be the end of the horizon,” he said.
The National Iranian American Council said in a statement that after analyzing the conditions of the executive order, they believe the measure will “likely be permanent” for Iranians.
“Mindful of the tensions between the U.S. and Iranian governments we are skeptical that Iran would comply with such requirements or that, if it did comply, the Trump Administration would accept such efforts. This would, in effect, mean a permanent ban on entry for Iranians,” the statement read.
Before Trump signed the executive order, Sadrabadi planned to stay in America after receiving his Ph.D. He had an internship lined up in California and hoped to obtain green cards for himself and his wife.
Now, he said, those hopes are shattered.
“This is just, as they put it, the tip of the iceberg,” Sadrabadi said. “This is just the first week … how many more weeks of this?”
After consulting his wife, Sadrabadi said he now plans to finish his degree as soon as possible and leave America behind. They may go back to Iran or to a European country.
Attaining a visa was a long and strenuous process for Sadrabadi. He spent six months getting his visa.
“I’ve gone through the process, I don’t know how you could make it tougher. The only thing left [Trump] could do was a ban,” he said.
Sadrabadi hasn’t seen his family in four years. If he stays in America, he fears he would have to sever ties to his home life in Iran altogether.
Given the current circumstances, Iranian students may be forced to choose between the lives they have worked hard to build in the United States and their families in Iran.
If a typical student’s father were in critical condition, Sadrabadi said, their first thought would be to get to their father as soon as possible.
But if Sadrabadi’s father were in critical condition, he said, “I should think: Should I sell my car and pack my stuff because I can’t come back? Should I tell my professor that I’m leaving forever?”
Sadrabadi said that he is “not going to just stay here and wait for that phone call that somebody has passed away.”
Shirin Montazeri, an Iranian Ph.D. student at UMass, has similar worries. “It’s really terrifying. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “If something happens to my family I can’t go back and visit,” she said at a demonstration held in Amherst in support of people affected by the executive order.
Sadrabadi expressed frustration that the Trump administration didn’t seem to consider, or care, about the hardships the executive order has caused so many people.
“[Hosseini] has money in the bank here. How is he supposed to get his money? All his stuff is here … People have cars at the airport. How are they supposed to get them? What are they supposed to do? There’s just no consideration.”
However, Sadrabadi said he is overcome by the support he’s seen from the people in Amherst.
“You see the love. How actual people treat you. They want me here. They love me. How could I hate them? You want to stay, you feel part of the community. The past six years I’ve been here I’ve never ever seen any hatred. I know this is not representative,” Sadrabadi said. “I can get out, but I have so much here to leave behind.”