The call came in the middle of the night; Hamishe Bahrami’s childhood friend would be unable to visit from Iran.
“Today, she was supposed to arrive in St. Louis,” Bahrami said Monday. “She was so excited to come, visit St. Louis and see my life in person. We don’t know if we’re going to see each other again.”
President Donald Trump’s executive order, signed Friday, prompted confusion and protests at airports nationwide. Authorities temporarily barred visitors from seven countries from entering the United States, even though they had visas, and detained and questioned for hours those caught in transit. A lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union led a federal judge to block the government from deporting visa holders after they land at U.S. airports.
Bahrami, the owner of Café Natasha’s in St. Louis, said her friend had booked a ticket and received a three-month travel visa to come see her, but was turned away early Monday at the airport in Germany. Bahrami’s husband passed away last month, and she was looking forward to seeing a familiar face. The two have not seen each other for 46 years. As a young woman, Bahrami moved to the United States to study English.
“When I came in, the [Iranian] Revolution happened and I couldn’t go back,” Bahrami said.
She worried that some of her employees and close friends also could be affected by the order, which blocked the settlement of Syrian refugees for 120 days.
“The president — I know he means well, I know he’s trying to save the country — but stopping refugees coming in is not the way,” Bahrami said. “Refugees are the people who made this country.”
The countries included in the executive order are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. During a White House briefing Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued that concerns expressed nationwide over the president's order were overblown, and that the immediacy of the travel ban was necessary for national security.
“The steps he’s taken were to keep this country safe,” Spicer said. “This is a national security issue.”
But St. Louis residents with roots in those seven countries said they’re now afraid to leave the country, and that hopes of visits with family have been dashed.
“Until now, I felt that I had been treated equally, as everyone else,” said Mohammed Saeed, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in the prevention of hospital acquired infections.
“I had the same responsibilities, I paid taxes the same way, I had the same rights. But now it feels different,” he said. “It feels like I’m a second class person here.”
Saeed, who grew up in Iraq, is lawful permanent resident. His family has applied for visas to visit him, but have struggled to get approval.
“Until a few days ago, it was unheard of that green card holders would be denied entry into the U.S.,” he said. “What worries me a lot is what might happen next.”
Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.