Politics & Government

Far from home, USC students support each other during Trump ban

USC students protest President Donald Trump’s immigration ban

University of South Carolina students met near the Russell House to protest Donald Trumps immigration ban.
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University of South Carolina students met near the Russell House to protest Donald Trumps immigration ban.

For Hossein Haj-Hariri, President Donald Trump’s travel ban carries the whiff of deja vu.

Haj-Hariri, dean of the University of South Carolina’s engineering school, knows the stress the Jan. 27 order put on the 135 Gamecocks from seven countries. Haj-Hariri lived through similar uncertainty as an Iranian student studying in the United States during the Iranian hostage crisis.

“I came here in ’78,” Haj-Hariri said. “Then, in 1980, our visas were canceled when relations soured.”

That action was taken by President Jimmy Carter in response to the Islamic Revolution and the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. A similar sense of unease led roughly 70 students and community members to gather Thursday on USC’s campus, outside the Russell House, to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order.

The protest was organized by USC’s Iranian Student Association as part of a nationwide protest at 47 universities.

Many of the students at the protest were from one of the seven Muslim-majority nations covered by the travel ban. That ban has been suspended as opponents challenge it in court, but it already has affected some of the USC students.

Vahid Tavaf, an Iranian engineering student, is expecting a baby soon with his wife. He had arranged for his parents to travel to the United States to help care for his growing family. But the travel ban forced them to cancel their plans and shook Tavaf’s understanding of where he had brought his family.

“How can I explain this Muslim ban to my son, when I tell him the reason we came to this country was because of its freedom?” he said. “How can I tell him why his grandparents couldn’t be here when he was born?”

Supporters of the travel suspension say it isn’t a “Muslim ban” despite Trump’s earlier embrace of that idea. The ban does not apply to other Muslim-majority countries, only Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, supporters note. They also say the ban is necessary to protect the United States from the threat of terrorism.

But that doesn’t change the challenges those in the United States from the affected countries already are facing.

“Mr. President,” Tavaf pleaded, “don’t deprive my son of being able to see his grandparents.”

USC’s Haj-Hariri told the protesters, “I don’t want to minimize the depth of homesickness you feel.”

But he did encourage them not to change the course that their lives were on before the ban went into place.

“You’re here because you need to learn,” he said. “Don’t lose sight of that. Make your decisions deliberately.”

Zaid Abbas, a student from Iraq, is worried his scholarship from the Iraqi government could be canceled in the political fallout from Trump’s order. Abbas’ situation is particularly raw because his uncle, cousin and several friends have died fighting with the Iraqi army against the Islamic State.

“People who are not interested in politics think all Muslims are terrorists,” Abbas said. “But we’re fighting ISIS together.”