Clemson Ph.D. barred from U.S. due to Trump's immigration ban
A young woman who graduated from Clemson University last year is unable to return to the U.S. due to President Trump's ban on immigrants from certain countries.
Nazanin Zinouri graduated Clemson in August 2016 with a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering. She currently works at industrial company Modjoul, and has lived in the U.S. for 7 years.
News 13 spoke with a representative from Modjoul who said it was "incomprehensible" that one of their employees could not return to the U.S. because of the ban, enacted by an executive order from President Trump on Friday.
The company also provided Zinouri's life story, a tale that highlights an intense desire to study in America to create a better life for herself and her family.
Her story is below:
I was born in a middle-class family in Tehran, Iran. I was raised by parents who taught me to love and respect people regardless of their race, religion or background. I learned to value education for its contributions to community life, its role in advancing social justice, for its capacity to open to people worlds of cultural and artistic excellence, and in the largest sense for its contributions to human flourishing.
My passion for mathematics and problem solving started as a young girl. I studied hard for years and performed highly in university entrance exam, that is mandatory in Iran to get in college and university. I was admitted in one of the top ranked universities in Iran with full scholarship to study Industrial Engineering. Soon after I started the program, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school. I started considering options to study abroad. After lots of research, I decided America was a great choice. There were lots of universities offering great graduate programs in Industrial Engineering, well known professors that would have been great advisors. I knew I could achieve my educational and professional goals. Also, having friends in the United States, I had heard great things about how nice American people are and how the always welcome immigrants warmly. I took TOEFL and GRE test and prepared all my documents to apply to universities. I got admission from several universities and full scholarship from Northern Illinois University.
Unfortunately, around the same time my sister who is also a highly educated young woman with a masters degree in Electrical Engineering, was diagnosed with MS. This was heartbreaking for my family and made the decision of leaving my family even harder for me. However, I knew I could become a better person and help my family and society more by the education I could receive in the United States. I had to pursue my American dream to become a young professional that can make a positive change.
The process was not easy. Not having a United States embassy in Iran, I had to travel to Turkey for my visa interview. None of this was financially easy for me and my family but I didn’t give up because I had hope of a bright future. My visa was approved but had to undergo additional clearance process before getting issued. This was typical procedure for Iranian citizens and was understandable because any country needs to assure the person they are admitting to their country is not a threat. I was clear and granted a student F1 visa. I entered the United states August 13, 2010 for the first time.
I started my Masters program in the department of Industrial Engineering at Northern Illinois University. Soon I was offered multiple opportunities such as working as engineer in residence at Caterpillar Inc. I was granted membership to Alpha Pi Mu, Industrial Engineering honor society based on my high performance. I was also part of Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE), and Society of Women Engineers (SWE) promoting engineering to young students. I received my Masters degree from Northern Illinois University with a 4.0 GPA.
My F1 visa was single entry and unfortunately, I didn’t leave the country to visit my family. I hadn’t seen them for almost three years, in January 2013, I got a phone call informing me that my father has been killed in a car crash. Despite the horrifying news, I managed to finish the semester, but I was determined to go be with my family. Even though I knew I had to re-apply for visa, I had to see my family and I had faith that I will be granted another visa without any issues since I had dedicated my life in the United States to education and academic activities. I didn’t have anything to worry about so I left for Iran in May 2013. I re-applied for visa and my visa went through clearance process again. I received my new visa without any issues after the clearance was completed and returned to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering at Clemson University with full Scholarship in August 2013.
During my graduate studies, I wrote several papers and participated in multiple national and regional conferences. I promised myself to visit my family at least once a year to help my sick sister and my mother who was left with no help after my father’s death. I visited Iran again in March 2014. Once again, I applied for visa and I was granted a multiple entry visa this time which was the best news to me and my family. This enabled me to visit again in 2015 without having to re-apply for visa. After several accomplishments including receiving scholarships from IIE and Clemson University, I graduated with my Ph.D. in August 2016.
Soon I found a job at a technology firm in Greenville area and started working as a data scientist. I couldn’t be happier with my job and the team I was working with. I have always loved animals and I felt like after years of being in school, this was the time to adopt a puppy. I rescued a puppy that had multiple issues including GI problems. I knew he had less chances of getting adopted because of his issues. I knew he was the one and I adopted my adorable dog, Dexter.
I had my OPT on F1 and employment authorization form, legally enabling me to work and live in the United States. My company also started my greencard application process. Late January I took a three-week vacation to visit my family. I had a valid multiple entry F1 visa with valid OPT and employment authorization card. I had my employment letter and pay stubs, even my old visas just in case! I arrived to Tehran on Monday 1/22/2017. Before I could even enjoy being with family, on Wednesday I heard rumors about a new executive order that will ban citizens of seven Muslim countries including Iran from entering the United states for 30 days. It was shocking and I couldn’t believe a country like United states that is all about acting based on law and supporting human rights, will keep someone who has lived there for almost seven years and have valid visa and documents from returning to her home.
On Thursday morning on president’s agenda, I saw signing executive orders. I got alerted and looked for the first available flight back to the United states with Emirates Airline. But it was too late… The order got signed that evening. I still got on my flight and made it to Dubai, at Dubai International airport I was denied boarding the plane heading from Dubai to Washington. I was shocked, was that real? Did this happen to me? A million thoughts rushed through my mind, what happens to Dexter now? He is waiting for his mom to come home. Who is going to take him for doctor visits? What happens to my car at the airport parking? What happens to all my life’s possessions from the last six and a half years living in my home in the United States? What happens to my lease? Is my landlord going to think I just left and didn’t care? What happens to my job, my life, and my American dream?
No one warned me when I was leaving from Atlanta airport for Tehran. No one told me what to do when I was deported in Dubai. No one told me what to do with my life in the United States. No one even cared how I am going to go back to Tehran from Dubai, they said I don’t belong there, they said my life in the United States didn’t matter. They said that by removing me from that flight… And now no airline will board Iranians, except those with American passport, on any plane heading to the United States.
I humbly ask for your support in my return to the United States, to my home, my dog, my car, my career, and my friends. My story will be much like others who dedicated their lives to their dream – the American Dream – and whose intentions and lives were turned upside-down on Friday without notice or reason.
I very much look forward to having the freedom to return to my home.