Immigration order blocks two from campus

Two undergraduates are unable to return to campus after an executive order issued Jan. 27 by President Donald J. Trump barred nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

Niki Mossafer Rahmati ’18 and Fadi Atieh ’20, from Iran and Syria, respectively, have been denied entry to the U.S. despite both having current, valid student visas.

Rahmati was not permitted to board a connecting flight in Doha, Qatar while traveling back to MIT from visiting her family in Iran; Atieh was attempting to check into his flight online when he received a pop-up stating: “admission refused to visitors with a passport issued by Syria.”

The ban will hold for 90 days and applies to all nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The executive order also indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from entering the country, and suspends entry of all other refugees for 120 days.

According to MIT registrar enrollment statistics for graduate and undergraduate students, there are currently 38 MIT students from Iran, five from Syria, one from Iraq, two from Sudan, and one from Somalia. These students will be unable to leave the U.S. until the ban is lifted without running the risk of being barred from return.

On Jan. 29, the Massachusetts federal district court issued a temporary order preventing the government from detaining or removing those with a valid visa or green card traveling from the seven countries to the U.S. through Logan Airport. The order will be in effect until Feb. 5.

After being prevented from boarding her connecting flight, Rahmati returned to her home in Tehran. In a Facebook post Jan. 30, she said she booked a second flight to Boston through Frankfurt, Germany.

“I wasn’t even allowed to check in to my flight,” she wrote. “They’re currently not letting anyone get on flights to the U.S., unless they have a Green Card or an American passport. The [court order] has apparently only helped those who were stuck in transit… or [Customs and Border Protection] in the U.S.”

Atieh had a flight booked for Jan. 30 to Boston, originating in Beirut, Lebanon. Despite the denial of online check-in, he planned to head to Beirut in the hope that he might be able to get on board anyway.

Atieh had been in contact with MIT’s International Students Office, the Admissions Office, and immigration attorneys, from whom he obtained a copy of the court order.

“Everybody is working hard to bring things back to normal but it’s going to take a little bit of time,” he wrote Jan. 29 in an email to The Tech. “The community at MIT is really supporting and really solid.”

At press time, The Tech had not heard whether Atieh had been allowed to board his flight.

MIT administrators have been racing to get students back to campus before the court goes out of effect Sunday.

“We are pursuing all avenues to return MIT community members to campus,” Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 wrote in an email to The Tech Feb. 2.

Barnhart said that MIT has asked for assistance from the Massachusetts congressional delegation, that the Institute is engaged with federal customs and borders and homeland security agencies, and that affected students have been connected with legal and travel resources.

“I wish with all my heart that that I could say with certainty that these efforts will be successful,” Barnhart wrote. “In this moment though, I can’t. I am certain that we will not give up, and that we will keep pushing for their safe return.”

Barnhart declined to discuss the specifics of Rahmati and Atieh’s situations, whether they were currently en route to MIT, or who at MIT was currently working with them. “I believe that we should let those individuals decide if and how they want to share their stories with the public,” she wrote.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren took the Senate floor Jan. 30, asking senators to overturn the executive order. She showed a photograph of Rahmati and read aloud a portion of one of Rahmati’s Facebook posts.

“This is who Donald Trump is trying to keep out of the country,” Warren said incredulously after reading from the post.

Trump had previously called for a ban on Muslims entering the country.

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” his campaign said in a statement early in December 2015.