Demonstrators protest against President Trump’s immigration ban at Chicago International Airport on January 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Joshua LOTT)
When Sara Yarjani handed her passport to an immigration officer at Los Angeles airport she was sure she’d be waved through customs, as had happened before. Instead, 23 hours later, she was deported.
The 35-year-old Iranian graduate student became one of the first victims of the chaos unleashed by President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, from entering the United States.
Yarjani, who spoke with AFP by telephone late Monday from Vienna, where she is a permanent resident, said her ordeal began shortly after her plane landed Friday evening and — unbeknownst to her — Trump’s travel ban had kicked in.
“I had been on holiday in Canada to see my sister and then went to Austria and was coming back to resume classes,” said Yarjani, a student of holistic health at the California Institute for Human Science, located north of San Diego.
“I was not expecting to be stopped,” she said. “I had previously entered the country and was treated very well … and gone through customs within minutes.”
This time she quickly realized that it would be different, as the immigration officer took her passport and ushered her to a waiting area.
Two female officers who barked orders patted Yarjani down as she stood against a wall with her arms raised. She was told to remove her shawl, her jewelry and shoe laces, and was asked to hand over any cash as well as her cell phone — all of which were later returned.
Yarjani said after nearly four hours of waiting and questioning, during which she was allowed no phone calls, an officer compelled her to sign a form agreeing to deportation on grounds, he claimed, that her student visa was no longer valid.
– ‘Leave voluntarily or forcibly’ –
“The officer told me ‘you have two option– either you comply and agree to leave voluntarily … or you will forcibly be deported and face a ban of one to five years or longer of reentry to the US’,” she said.
“The way he was saying it was very threatening and I felt I had no choice.”
Yarjani said she became aware of the mayhem caused by Trump’s order when she was allowed, shortly after midnight, a quick call to her sister to let her know she was being deported.
“I arrived in LA at 8:35 pm Friday and left at 7:30 pm the next day,” she said.
Yarjani said as she was being escorted by two armed officers for her flight back to Europe, she was able to briefly check her phone and learned that a federal judge had temporarily blocked part of Trump’s executive order.
“I told one of the officers that a judge had ruled against the ban … and that I should not be put on the plane but all she said was ‘wowza’ while ordering me to keep walking,” Yarjani said.
She said now that she was back in Austria with her parents, she was still trying to come to terms with what had happened and considering her next move.
“It’s a very confusing feeling right now because on the one hand I feel thankful I am out of their custody but on the other hand, it’s really sad and heartbreaking because I really love what I am studying,” she said, her voice breaking.
“I have worked so hard for the past year and a half and it’s been such a long journey to get there and to study something I am really passionate about.”
She said university officials have been very supportive and concerned about her fate while attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have also offered assistance.
“Being stopped from entering the country to continue my studies does not make any sense,” said Yarjani, who was due to graduate this summer.
“I was treated as if I had done something drastically wrong … and I don’t think studying something that is aimed at helping people is a crime you should be deported for.”