SMU junior Osama AlOlabi may be giving up hope on America after President Donald J. Trump’s executive order on Jan. 27 prohibited travel from seven Muslim countries in the Middle East and turned his life upside down.
A mechanical engineering major from Syria, AlOlabi is one of 49 SMU students from the countries affected by the travel ban. Although the president’s executive order was suspended on Feb. 3, AlOlabi and other international students and faculty remain concerned about their future in the U.S.
“America did feel like home, and I still want to make it feel like my home because I love it,” said AlOlabi, who came to America to join his brother, Tarek, a graduate student at SMU. “I don’t want to give up. I don’t want to let Trump make me give up on this country.”
In addition to Syria, other countries under the travel ban include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
A federal appeals court blocked Trump’s initial executive order on Feb. 9. The court ruled that the order did nothing to reduce national security threats, and since has refused to reinstate it, despite the President’s requests. Trump is expected to issue a revised travel ban, similar to the first, on Mar. 6.
Under the original order, AlOlabi couldn’t travel to and from Syria, and in a twist of fate, his parents were two of the people detained at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport for over 24 hours just as the travel ban was set in motion. They had just arrived in the U.S. to visit their sons.
AlOlabi said officials released his parents on Jan. 29 and they were able to visit their sons for two weeks. They have since returned to Syria, but AlOlabi is unsure if they’ll ever be able to return to the U.S.
“We might not get to see them again until we graduate,” AlOlabi said . “It’s heartbreaking.”
AlOlabi’s situation reflects a sad reality for all international students studying inside the U.S., according to Stephanie Hernandez, senior manager of Immigration Advising and Services at SMU. Hernandez always tells international students, even those from countries not affected by the ban, to avoid traveling outside of the U.S.
“Admission into the country is not guaranteed for anyone,” Hernandez said. “Our advice has always been if you don’t have to travel, you shouldn’t.”
The International Student and Scholar Services office, which oversees nearly 2,000 SMU students from all over the world, has been working to deliver accurate information to the SMU community about President Trump’s order and subsequent suspension.
“There’s so much fake news-type of information that students are receiving, so our office has been a source of clarifying some of that information,” said Claudia Sotomayor, director of the international students’ program. “In general, this has caused a lot of anxiety for all of our students, not knowing what to expect, not knowing if their countries will maybe be added to a future ban. I think that’s where most of their concerns are coming from.”
Mahya Ostovar Ravari, an Iranian Ph.D. student currently at SMU as a visiting scholar, has also been affected by the ban. She planned to come to the U.S. on Feb. 1, but after the travel ban, had to delay her trip by a week.
Ostovar spent months collecting the proper paperwork and documents to make her trip possible, making her frustration that much worse when officials in Iran told her she couldn’t board the plane.
“I had a valid U.S. visa and that was worth absolutely nothing,” Ostovar said . “They told me I couldn’t board the plane holding an Iranian passport.”
When the ban was suspended, Ostovar was finally allowed to travel to the U.S. to begin her studies, something she had dreamed of for years.
“This ban is affecting these ordinary people who have planned and tried so hard to come to the U.S. and build a life in a much better place,” Ostovar said.
Even though AlOlabi feels hopeless at times, he tries to remember that being in America is a blessing and something he shouldn’t take for granted. He knows that America is the land of the free and a place where people can follow their dreams.
“It’s a blessing,” AlOlabi said . “I just really hope Trump doesn’t take that away.”