International students in Utah say executive order turns visit home into one-way trip

Posted at 7:44 PM, Feb 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-02 09:32:10-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The message to international students around the country is, "Don't travel outside the United States.”

It’s coming directly from universities in Utah, including Brigham Young University, Utah State University and the University of Utah. The message applies especially to students from the seven countries named in the recent executive order from Donald Trump: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia.

An international student earning her Ph.D. at The U of U agreed to talk with Fox 13 News about her fears over President Trump’s executive order but felt uncomfortable disclosing her identity because of the precarious situation in the country. She asked Fox 13 to refer to her as “Sara” from Iran.

“If we go out, we cannot come back,” Sara said.

Sara fears if she goes home to visit her family in Iran, she will not be allowed to return and complete her doctorate. She said many of her international friends left for winter break and are now stuck in their home countries.

“I had some friend that was visiting [her home in Iran], she was taking this semester break to visit her mother because her mother had cancer," Sara said. "She had a student visa. She wanted to be with her. Just after this signing, she lost her mother and now she cannot come back.”

Among the students affected by order are 250 students at the U of U. It’s a problem Chalimar Swain, The U of U’s director of International Students and Scholars Services, has never seen before.

“Students are feeling very uncertain about their futures,” Swain said. “They are not sure that the U.S. is a welcoming place anymore. They aren’t sure they are wanted here.”

She said a couple hundred students gathered at the Student Union Building this week to ask questions about their safety.

“A lot of our students are wondering what is going to happen? Are people in the U.S. going to accept this?”

Swain said this ban is not just a loss for the students, the university, the state, or the country: it’s a loss for the entire world.

“They are doing things like working up at Huntsman on cancer treatment and cures, so these are some pretty amazing people," she said.

Swain and Sara said they are also worried beyond Trump’s executive order. They know how history has treated marginalized groups before, and they wonder if maybe it’s safer to just go back home to Iran than stay in Utah.

“We’ve had a lot of questions about, 'should I just leave?'” Swain said. “Should I just be packing my bags and give up my education, give up my research and go home? Because I am scared to stay here. We've had people saying that their families are telling them get out, don't stay there, they don't want you there. Their families are scared.”

The University of Utah is hosting a meeting called Dialogue on Trump’s Immigration Order on Thursday, February 2 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. at the Okazaki Community Meeting Room (155-A) in the University of Utah College of Social Work. The address: 395 South 1500 East, Salt Lake City, Utah