Trump policy breaks families apart

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Emad Khazraee is a sociotechnical information scientist and assistant professor in Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science. As a native of Iran, Khazraee and his family are affected by President Donald Trump’s recent Executive Order on immigration. His mother-in-law is unable to visit the United States to see his newborn son and he had to cancel a conference in India where he was supposed to conduct a workshop. “We are the lucky ones because we are all together. There are families that are separated now,” Khazraee said. “We built all this trust in the institution of democracy. That’s one of the reasons we immigrated to the United States. You can see that it might evaporate if people do not really take care of democracy… you always need people’s vigilance to protect those values,” he said about the ban.

Mitch Felan

Kent State assistant professor Emad Khazraee remembers where he was the night of Nov. 4, 2008. He was sitting in front of a television set in Iran, waiting through an eight-and-a-half-hour time difference to see the election of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president.

“That was a turning point in, not only the history of the United States, but in the world. I wanted to be a part of that progress in society,” he said. “That was only 50 years after the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. (It proved the U.S.) was a country that reconcile with itself at the time in my mind.” 

Khazraee is an Iranian immigrant who moved to America just a year after that election. He was one of 19,000 Iranian immigrants who came to the country that year, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.

“America was painted for me as a land of opportunities and the land of tolerance,” he said.

But now, things have changed for Khazraee. Obama is no longer president and Khazraee has a new-found fear he didn’t think he would ever experience in America; he is from Iran, one of seven countries banned in President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive order.

“This fear and terror in me probably started sometime around June or July. It just landed on Nov. 8,” he said. “But what happened in the past week … I’m a bit scared whether democracy can protect itself.”

Khazraee, who has been teaching at Kent State since 2015, has lived in the United States with his wife, a professor at The University of Akron, for eight years.

Amy Reynolds, dean of the College of Communication and Information, where Emad works, said that his colleagues have been offering nothing but support.

“I immediately thought about Emad (when I heard about the order),” she said. “He has been someone who’s been an amazingly quick contributor. He works all across the college, he’s an outstanding citizen and he’s very valued here.”

Reynolds said that professors in the college have been contacting their representatives and senators since the announcement. One office even made “I’m with Emad” posters complete with the Iranian flag.

Khazraee and his wife were both in America at the time the order was finalized. As a result of it, both professors have had to make changes to their schedules.

“I was also invited to the U.K. to teach at an institute, but that is cancelled. I planned to attend a conference in U.K. as well, and one of my main conferences is in Columbia … (but) that’s not going to happen,” he said.

As an academic, Khazraee said, “you build your credibility through travel.”

But now, he said, “We cannot travel to any places.”

What hurts most for Khazraee and his wife, however, is the recent birth of their first child, whose Iranian grandparents had to cancel their trip to America.

“My mother-in-law was on the way to visit our baby for the first time and also to help us because my parental leave will end soon,” he said. “That’s cancelled now.”

Khazraee’s wife is also a concern for him. She is an archeologist who has worked on overseas projects in Turkey, Oman, Iraq and Iran. 

“Her whole future is under threats. How can you be an archeologist and not travel?” he said. 

But despite the circumstances, Khazraee said that his family is lucky in one way: they stayed together. 

“We believe that we are the lucky ones. The three of us are together,” he said.

His friends cannot say the same: One of Khazraee’s colleagues — who teaches at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill — is now trapped overseas, as he left for a family emergency before the ban was placed.

Another is in Canada, unsure if she will be able to cross the border to see her husband and child. A few of Khazraee’s friends from New York University were also detained while trying to board a plane.

“It’s extremely hard when you feel your life is under siege,” he said. “I started feeling like what it would have been like to be a Jew in 1933 Berlin. All of a sudden, things are happening, and you cannot expect things are going to stop.” 

But Khazree said that there is still hope. For one, he said that he has been in much worse situations. 

“I grew up during eight years of the longest modern war in the 20th Century between Iran and Iraq. I witnessed many of my classmates’ parents dying. We were living in the cities that were facing the landing of the missiles. That was how I grew up,” he said. “Even when we were babies, we learned that we should not talk about things because maybe you had an uncle or a friend who had been executed for being a political dissenter.”

But, as he later admitted, the United States’ new administration may also be helping with his research.

Khazraee specializes in studying the effect of new media on political action and protest. He said it started with the Women’s March in Washington and continued to airport protests around the country following the executive order.

“I usually study non-democractic societies and oppressive regimes, but I never thought I would have to use the same research methods to study the United States,” he said. “We are going to see a new era of strong social movements in the United States, because we see all the elements: they’re coming out of the grievances and injustices.”

The studies do not change his thoughts on the travel ban, though, which do not bode well for his thoughts about the new president.

“This executive order does not have any foot in evidence or truth. I’m a scientist. Everything, for me should be evidence-based,” he said. “It’s just a showoff. The president wants to tell his supporters: ‘I banned Muslims.’”

He said support from his colleagues makes the situation easier on him. Support from Kent State President Beverly Warren to Reynolds has been a source of hope for him.

“We want our colleagues to know that we care deeply about how this is affecting them,” Reynolds said. “Obviously we can’t directly challenge an executive order made by the president, but we are going to do what we can to support him.”

Mitch Felan is a senior reporter, contact him at [email protected]