Iranian Grad Student Returns to U.S. After Temporary Block on Trump’s Ban

February 6, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |



Saira Rafiee, an Iranian Ph.D. student and teacher at the CUNY (City University of New York) Graduate Center, landed at Logan Airport in Boston on Saturday, February 4, to cheers from her supporters after being refused re-entry, along with many other foreign-born college students, because of Trump’s travel ban against people from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Iran. Nearly 120 students at CUNY alone have been affected by the ban.

Saira’s return was enabled by the decision of a federal district court judge on Friday that temporarily blocks Trump’s 90-day immigration ban from being enforced nationwide, and also through the strong support of her student and faculty colleagues at CUNY. Saira boarded a plane in Tehran, Iran, last weekend to return to the U.S., after visiting her family during winter break, but was detained in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for nearly 18 hours and then sent back to Tehran. Outraged at her detention, CUNY students, faculty, and others at the university immediately swung into action.

On January 30, CUNY student government leaders and student activists held a rally demanding Saira’s return, chanting “Unify and defy” and “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” Two days later, the CUNY Graduate Center chapter of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) union also held a rally and then a march. “Hundreds of PSC members responded to the union’s call for messages urging action on Saira’s case, helping to focus public attention on her case,” said Barbara Bowen, PSC president at CUNY.

“That Saira was able to return is thanks to a huge collective effort—together with her own political courage and vision,” Bowen said. “Even while the outcome of her own case was uncertain, Saira insisted that she be seen as one among many; she called on us to elevate the cases of people without unions and with less access to public voice.... The PSC will resist the Trump agenda as it attacks students, unions, workers and the principles on which universities are founded. Thought has no borders.”

CUNY Chancellor James Milliken said the university will refuse to turn over information on foreign students or allow immigration enforcers to enter the campus—except by warrant or court order. This caveat about a warrant or court order is wrong—it opens the door to collaboration with the Trump-Pence fascist regime. If you were in Nazi Germany, should you say you would hand over Jewish people to the Gestapo if they had a court order? You should not! Colleges—and everyone else—should make a clear stand that they will stand in the way of fascists coming after foreign students, refugees, undocumented people, and others, NO MATTER WHAT.

While in Tehran and waiting to learn if she would ever be able to return to her studies and teaching at CUNY, Saira Rafiee made her own thoughts on the Trump immigration ban quite clear: “The sufferings of all of us [being detained] are just one side of this horrendous order. The other side is the struggle against racism and fascism, against assaults on freedom and human dignity, against all the values that even though are far from being realized, are the only things that would make life worth living.... It is time to call things by their true names; this is Islamophobia, racism, fascism. We, the 99% of the world, need to stand united in resisting the authoritarian forces all over the world.”


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