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Harvard Affiliate Barred From U.S. Sues Trump

Demonstrators hold signs opposing President Donald Trump's immigration ban during a large rally in Boston's Copley Square on Jan. 29.
Demonstrators hold signs opposing President Donald Trump's immigration ban during a large rally in Boston's Copley Square on Jan. 29. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Hannah Natanson, Crimson Staff Writer

Samira Asgari, a Harvard affiliate and Iranian scientist barred from entering the United States this weekend, is suing President Donald Trump and arguing she should be allowed to enter the country.

Asgari, who planned to research tuberculosis at Harvard Medical School, is one of at least four Harvard affiliates prevented from travelling to the United States since Trump signed an executive order restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries on Friday.

Asgari’s suit, filed Wednesday in federal court, charges that she was unlawfully barred from the country despite possessing a valid travel visa, contradicting an emergency restraining order issued by Boston federal judges Sunday that halts Trump’s order for seven days.

The suit names several Department of Homeland Security officials—including department Secretary John F. Kelly—as defendants in addition to Trump. The legal action asks that Asgari be admitted to the United States.

The defendants “caused irreparable harm to the Plaintiff by denying her the opportunity to appear at the Boston port of entry,” the suit reads.

Asgari has been rebuffed from flights to the United States twice: once on Saturday in Frankfurt, Germany, and again on Tuesday in Zurich, Switzerland. Now, she and her boyfriend—who quit his job in expectation of the couple’s move to Boston—are awaiting the results of the lawsuit in Lausanne, Switzerland, while staying with friends, Asgari said in an interview Thursday.

“I’m still hopeful,” Asgari said. “I really hope a fair solution, a human solution can be found to all of this and soon.”

“In my case, I need the job; I cannot stay at my friends’ place forever,” she added.

Asgari’s suit also alleges officials from United States Customs and Border Patrol—a division of the Department of Homeland Security—told Swiss International Air Lines it would be forced to pay $50,000 in fines if the company permitted Asgari to board a flight to Boston.

“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation,” Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Gillian Christensen wrote in an emailed statement.

Trump’s executive order suspends immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days and prohibits entry for Syrian refugees indefinitely. The policy sparked demonstrations and lawsuits across the country and in Harvard Square over the weekend.

Government officials have worked to define the exact implications of the order and to put it into practice over the last few days. On Tuesday, the Justice Department published a memo from the State Department, circulated internally the previous Friday, that revoked most visas for travelers from the seven countries identified in Trump’s order.

The State Department memo allows for repeals of the revocation “on a case-by-case basis.”

Asgari said she was shocked and angry when she heard her visa could have been revoked. She said she first learned the news from a journalist, who called and told her.

“This just can’t happen like that, without even informing the individual,” Asgari said. “I expect to get notification from an official if that’s the case. It’s really frustrating, it’s like I’m always behind a few steps.”

She declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said she and her boyfriend have been trying to distract themselves from the “stressful” situation by “putting a bit of order” in their lives and finding “automated” things to do.

Asgari said there is one moment, however, she cannot put from her mind.

“I remember still very clearly the moment that I was in Frankfurt Airport about to board and I was put out of the line, I remember that I couldn’t say anything, I was so shocked,” she said. “That moment just keeps repeating itself in my head. Pretty much every night that comes back before going to sleep.”

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

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