Two Iranian sisters on their way to research at Harvard were denied entry to the United States this weekend, bringing the total number of Harvard affiliates barred from the country due to President Donald Trump’s immigration order to at least four.
Amene and Marzieh Asgari, who planned to study at Harvard Medical School and in the Philosophy department respectively, were twice prevented from boarding flights to Boston on Sunday, and twice again on Monday.
The Asgari sisters’ rejection came after Iranian researchers Seyed S. S. Saravi and Samira Asgari, who is not related to Amene and Marzieh, were barred from flying to the United States Saturday to conduct research at Harvard.
“My whole future is basically in the hands of this executive order, my dream job, my future, my everything,” Amene said in an interview with her sister Tuesday. “I think it’s truly unfair, I do hope that either Trump changes his mind or other Senators can do something.”
Trump’s executive order halts immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days and suspends entry for Syrian refugees indefinitely. The policy sparked demonstrations and lawsuits around the United States over the weekend, including in Harvard Square, where student activists held an ‘emergency protest’ Friday.
Marzieh said she does not understand why Trump’s immigration policy would target her family.
“If the administration wants to fight terrorism, it’s fair, it’s excellent, but why are we being targeted? We are just citizens, normal citizens,” she said. “We left Iran for a better, freer life, not for this.”
“This is not the America we know,” Marzieh added.
The two were slated to start work at Harvard in early February—Amene was to perform mathematical modelling for the Medical School, while Marzieh was going to conduct research under Philosophy professor Edward J. Hall. Both originally planned to fly to the United States sometime in the next two weeks.
After Trump signed the immigration order Friday, Amene received an email from Medical School administrators urging her to “come immediately,” she said. She and Marzieh booked flights to the United States Sunday afternoon out of Heathrow Airport in London.
When the Asgari sisters arrived at the airport, Marzieh’s two-year-old daughter Sophie in tow, an official from the United States Department of Homeland Security refused to let the sisters on a plane to Boston, though both said they had valid visas. Amene and Marzieh tried to rebook their flight to Boston three times over the next 48 hours, each time without success.
“[The official] said, ‘Look, I don’t take any joy in doing this, but I have to follow my government’s order,’” Marzieh said. “‘So don’t reserve your ticket for tomorrow or another day or another day, just go.’”
Amene and Marzieh, who said they were “exhausted” at this point, headed home with Sophie to Glasgow, Scotland. Amene, who is living in the United Kingdom on a student visa, said she is fearful for the future.
Her visa will expire on April 30, she said. If Amene is unable to enter the United States before then, she said she will have to return to Iran, where she fears she will face difficulties with the government.
“I have been a children rights activist since my early twenties,” Amene wrote in an email. “Rights activities are frowned upon (to put it mildly) by the Iranian regime… Considering my activities, there is no guarantee I can leave Iran [once I return].”
Amene’s other sister Mahboubeh Asgari-Targhi, who works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said she is also concerned for Amene’s wellbeing should she travel to Iran.
“Considering that Amene has been a human rights activist, I am worried what will happen to her once she returns to Iran,” Mahboubeh said. “Our hope was that she could come to Harvard and continue her research. This is just devastating.”
Reflecting on the past three days, Marzieh said there was one moment in particular she kept reliving in her head. Just after she and Amene learned they would be unable to board their flight to Boston, Marzieh said, she remembered going to collect Sophie from the children’s play area.
“My daughter was running at the airport and I was trying to catch her, she was running up and down because she thought I was trying to play with her,” Marzieh said. “It was very sweet, but also sad.”
Amene interrupted her sister.
“People didn’t seem to realize, yes, we are scientists,” she said. “But also we were just two women with a toddler.”
—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.
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