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Trump Administration’s Refugee And Immigration Order Sparks Confusion On College Campuses

Norman, Oklahoma residents Elika Bahrevar and Amir Arshadi on Jan. 29, 2017.
Jacob McCleland
Norman, Oklahoma residents Elika Bahrevar and Amir Arshadi on Jan. 29, 2017.


Amir Arshadi and ElikaBahrevar met a decade ago, when they were engineering students at a university in Iran. Later, they both came to the United States for grad school.

“We were still boyfriend and girlfriend at the time, and we got married in Cleveland,” Amir says while laughing.

“We were students so we couldn’t afford to have a wedding,” Elika chuckles.

Elika has an aunt in Ohio who agreed to host for the wedding. That’s why they got hitched in Cleveland, a place they never lived. Their parents couldn’t get visas to come.

“My parents and her parents, actually, participated through Skype,” Amir said.

They finished grad school, and got jobs in Norman, Oklahoma. Elika is an engineer at a construction company; Amir is a researcher and adjunct professor in the University of Oklahoma’s Civil Engineering Department. And just a few months ago, both got permanent resident visas, also known as green cards.

They had plans to travel to Iran this summer for Elika’s sister’s wedding.

“We are a small family, only two sisters. And they missed already our wedding. So that was a huge event for our family,” Elika said.

This was a big deal for them. Amir hasn’t been to Iran for six years. They’ve never met each other's parents in person. They have three pieces of luggage already packed with gifts for the wedding. But Iran is one of the seven Muslim-majority countries on the Trump administration’s immigration freeze list. After a weekend of confusion, Amir and Elika now think it’s too risky to go.

“We both love this country, and we both respect the values of this country,” Amir said. “But I believe this executive order is against the values of the United States.”

The Trump administration on Sunday tried to clarify its executive order that temporarily prohibits the resettlement of refugees, and bars citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The White House now says holders of permanent resident visas are not subject to the order, but it has still caused confusion on college campuses here in Oklahoma.

Amir Arshadi is one of 50 to 60 employees at the University of Oklahoma who is from one of the affected countries. OU immigration attorney Nima Zecavati says some of those workers are not permanent residents, and hold H-1B or other types of non-immigrant visas.

“These are folks that have already been vetted and have went and obtained a visa at the consulate abroad that won't be able to use them anymore based on executive action,” Zecavati said.

That makes overseas research or conferences virtually impossible. Zecavati says the executive action hurts them, and it hinders the University’s ability to compete at a global scale.

“Some of our greatest researchers right now are on the Norman campus and some of our greatest minds at the Health Science Center hail from these countries,” Zecavati said.

Suzette Grillot is the dean of the College of International Studies (and, in full disclosure, the host of KGOU’s World Views.) She estimates 113 students from the affected countries have student visas. Her office is advising those students not to travel outside of the United States.

“Student visas are still considered part of the ban so if they were to leave the country or if they are currently out of the country doing any kind of work or if they're at home and need to make their way back then they may not be able to,” Grillot said.

At this time, no OU students or employees are out of the country and at risk of not being able to return.

“We have heard from students that have family members, spouses, children that had been traveling outside of the country and that they are now concerned that their dependents, their family members, will not be able to make it back to the United States,” Grillot said.

Grillot says, so far, no students have indicated they plan to leave school.

For Elika Bahrevar and Amir Arshadi, the travel ban is making them re-think some big life decisions. They were planning on having a baby, but now, they’re not so sure if Elika’s mother can’t visit.

“Do we want to have children without any help? Do we want to deprive them from their grandparents? And can we manage it actually? If you want to be realistic, both of us need to work,” Elika said.

Elika and Amir both say they want America to be safe. They live here, after all. But they want the government to take their rights into consideration, too.


Editor's note: A previous version of this story said Elika's aunt paid for their wedding, when in fact she hosted the wedding.

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Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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