The executive order President Donald Trump signed last Friday banning entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries immediately threw Stanford University student Ramin Ahmari's life into a state of uncertainty.
Ahmari, who was born and raised in Germany by Iranian parents, holds dual citizenship in both countries, although he doesn't identify as Iranian and has never lived there. (He said he cannot rescind his Iranian citizenship until he's 25 years old and meets certain requirements.) A junior studying computer science, Ahmari has been in the United States since 2014 on a student visa.
His personal and academic plans have been jeopardized by the president's new immigration ban, he said, because now he's fearful that if he leaves the United States, he will not be able to return. He had intended to study abroad at Oxford University in London this summer, graduate with two minors in human rights and statistics, pursue a master's degree and, if necessary, travel home to Germany to visit his parents, who are both sick. Because of the ban, he has decided to forego the two minors and master's program so he can finish his undergraduate degree as soon as possible and be able to work in case he has to leave the country.
"What I am faced with is either education or family at any point," he said in an interview with the Weekly. "That's deeply unfair."
Ahmari is among many international students at Stanford and across the country who have been impacted by the ban. A Sudanese graduate student in anthropology at Stanford, Nisrin Elamin Abdelrahman, was among those detained at airports on Friday as soon as the ban went into effect. A legal permanent resident of the United States, she was held, questioned and briefly handcuffed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after returning from a research trip in Sudan, she told other media outlets.
Abdelrahman declined to comment for this story, citing "security and other reasons."
Anita Husen, director of The Markaz: Resource Center, which supports the Stanford Muslim community, said that there are students, faculty and staff who are currently out of the country and cannot return, and others who have had to cancel academic and personal plans to travel abroad.
Ahmari said he decided to speak out publicly, despite fears of government retribution or people's negative reactions, in the hopes that his story will help others understand the "immutable" impact of the new policy.
"My story is not Democrat. My story is not Republican. My story is just personal," he said.
Ahmari is passionate about both computer science and human rights. He lives in a student residence that he described as a "community of activists" and is a part of CS + Social Good, a student-led group that works to use computer science to have social impact. He is also a part of Pulse, a campus fashion and lifestyle magazine, and is helping to research computational biology in Stanford's Dror Lab.
Ahmari first publicly shared how the executive order has impacted him in a Facebook post this weekend that has since been shared more than 100 times.
"America, the place I went to for opportunity, academia and tolerance, has suddenly become a golden cage, one that hates the intersectionality of my identity in more than just one way -- a fact it has made painfully clear now," he wrote.
Since the ban went into effect last week, Ahmari said he has perceived more people judging him as a danger "based on the way I look," he told the Weekly.
"They think I'm Iranian and they think I'm Muslim and that's everything I am to most people," Ahmari said. "That is something very difficult to process."
Stanford has been reaching out to members of the campus community who are from the seven countries identified in the ban to provide information and support, including pro bono legal counsel, special drop-in hours for counseling services and an informational event with immigration law experts. Soon after Trump signed the new executive order, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, outgoing provost John Etchemendy and new provost Persis Drell sent a message encouraging those who could be affected by the immigration ban to "postpone international travel for the time being."
"We recognize that those who set national immigration policy must account for national security considerations to keep our country safe," the trio wrote in a second statement issued this weekend. "But policies that restrict the broad flow of people and ideas across national borders, or that have the effect or appearance of excluding people based on religion or ethnicity, are deeply antithetical to both our mission and our values."
They also said a recent Association of American Universities statement that calls for an end to the ban "reflects our concerns and priorities."
Tessier-Lavigne also joined 47 other college and university presidents on Thursday in signing a letter to Trump asking him to "rectify or rescind" the executive order, which "threatens both American higher education and the defining principles of our
country," the letter reads.
The university does not share information about students' or staff's immigration status, religion, nationality, ethnicity or other information with anyone, including law enforcement authorities, unless required by law, Stanford's statement noted. The Stanford Department of Public Safety also does not inquire about immigration status in the "normal course of its duties" and "will not participate with other agencies in immigration enforcement activities unless legally required to do so."
The university is committed to "vigorously advocating before Congress, the Executive Branch, and beyond for policies consistent with its commitment to members of our community who are international, undocumented and those who are impacted by the recent executive order," the three leaders wrote.
Ahmari said he has felt supported by his university and commended Stanford for providing forums for education and dialogue on the ban.
Some student groups and faculty on campus were quick to publicly condemn the ban. In a statement, eight faculty members from the Jewish Studies Program called the ban a "scandal to our democratic culture" and a "potentially anti-constitutional policy" that the government should immediately end. The Stanford Asian American Graduate Student Association penned an op-ed in the Stanford Daily expressing its opposition to the ban despite the fact the organization has "generally remained politically neutral."
"But this executive order," the group's student-leaders wrote, "is too harmful and too detestable for us to stay silent."
"AAGSA serves the entire Asian-American graduate student population at Stanford, including Muslims," they wrote. "We will continue to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment, and we call on the university to lead and act in defense of its members and its values."
A letter signed by close to 200 faculty members by Thursday urged the administration to take more specific action, such as a pledge from Columbia University to expand financial aid for undocumented students if the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs is terminated.
Husen said The Markaz center is supporting several student-led efforts in response to the ban, including a "speak-out" event on Thursday and a creative expression event on Friday.
Ahmari said he has also been part of many organic conversations on social media and in person with students, both those in similar situations and others who simply want to help.
He acknowledged that there are also people on campus who supported Trump and favor the ban. Ahmari said anyone interested in speaking with him -- whether it's someone in need of support, or someone who disagrees with his views -- can contact him directly.
Stanford's Bechtel International Center has been posting information about the executive order on its website over the last several days. Stanford also created this week a special web page to post information and resources on immigration policy and later a dedicated email address (email@example.com).
Representatives from the Bechtel Center, as well as the law school's Immigrants' Rights Clinic and The Markaz: Resource Center will provide information and answer questions for students directly impacted by the ban at an informational meeting on Thursday evening. A separate forum is also scheduled for Thursday to give an overview and general information to the broader Stanford community.
For more information, go to bechtel.stanford.edu.