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David, a University of La Verne junior, is in fear of what his future holds next thanks to Donald Trump’s executive order that banned immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries.
Although the January executive order has been overturned, the Trump administration has promised an updated version of the ban any day now.
David was born in Lebanon and raised in the United Arab Emirates until he was 17. Because the Middle East does not have birthright citizenship, David is of Syrian nationality because his father is from Syria.
David – who asked that his real name be withheld because of the precariousness of his status in this country – puts a familiar face to thousands of international students across the U.S., who do not know what to expect next.
David came to ULV in 2014 on a student visa and quickly became involved on campus as an international studies major and member of Model United Nations. His timing was good in a sense because had he tried to come to America now, he would probably have been denied access because of his Syrian passport.
“I’ve always dreamed of coming to the U.S. because I never really thought the Middle East was my place,” he said. “I was always intrigued with the American culture, the American freedom and the vibes in California – it is the American dream as they call it.”
Soon after David came to the U.S., he changed his student visa to asylum seeker status out of fear of persecution from the Syrian government, because his name is out for compulsory military service and insurgency forces.
In Syria, he is also part of a minority, both ethnically and religiously.
For David, the worst part of the executive order was not the inability to travel, but the ambiguity and fear of what is next.
Before the travel ban, David was not allowed to travel because part of asylum seeker status is the agreement that the U.S. is a safe haven and traveling would contradict that.
Daniel Loera, director of multicultural affairs, said he believes the ban creates an inaccurate rhetoric about the immigrants coming from the seven countries.
“The message about putting a lateral ban on these seven countries is that (Trump) is painting a broad stroke about these folks, that he’s pretty sure they’re ‘bad hombres,’ to put it in his words,” Loera said.
“I don’t know what he’s connecting it to, we already know he’s not connecting it to the 9/11 attacks, they were from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and United Arab Emirates. They were not from these seven countries.”
People on the list of banned countries are protesting in the streets because they do not like the war that is happening in their countries, and the ban does not reflect that Loera said.
“We keep fighting over this idea,” Loera said. “Because you’re a Muslim it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a war mongering person.”
David also said that the ban may have affected his ability to work. While students’ asylum status is pending they are able to work, so he took advantage of that opportunity and had two jobs until his work permit expired at the end of the fall semester and it was time to reapply.
“I was studying, I was working and everything was great,” He said. “Then Trump took office.”
Since working is stipulated in asylum status, his lawyer told him not to worry about the possibility of his renewal not being accepted.
However, it has been three months since he filed and now he is unable to work.
“I just don’t know what to think, and really, it’s stressing me out,” David said. “It hasn’t been easy, but I try not to think about it as much.”
Still the uncertainty of the situation takes a toll on him as well as other students. Director of International Services and Engagement Pressian Nicolov recognized the increasing levels of stress and uncertainty and has made himself available as a support system.
Nicolov said he has noticed everyone at ULV, from the president to the deans, being supportive and reinforcing the University’s values.
“The executive order does not align with ULV values of diversity and inclusivity,” Nicolov said.
“Our office, the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity, human resources, the counseling services have all been marshaled to support a holistic support system.”
The travel ban prompted a University wide statement from President Devorah Lieberman stating that ULV will always be an inclusive campus and they are working toward aiding affected students and families.
“The University of La Verne is working to identify and assist students and faculty who are directly impacted by the order. We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds and will provide information and counsel to students, families, faculty, and staff,” Lieberman wrote in an email sent on Jan. 30.
David confirmed that he has been surrounded by a supportive environment. He said the international services office has contacted him numerous times and he saw Lieberman doing her part as well.
Graduate student Firas Arodaki came to America in 2000 at age 10 with his family because his parents could not see a future in Kuwait. Arodaki was born in Kuwait, but is from Syria, so he was not guaranteed college the way Kuwaitis are.
He came to ULV in 2009 and since then has received citizenship in 2010, earned his bachelors in computer science and is working on his masters in leadership and management.
Although Arodaki became a citizen in 2010 he said the travel ban still worried him and made him panic.
He works for the East African Community of Orange County where he is responsible for the Syrian refugee office and works to support Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi refugees. Arodaki said many of the local refugees in Pomona were frightened and asked him if they would be deported.
“It is a flashback for me,” Arodaki said.
During the Bush administration, Arodaki said he was interrogated in a San Francisco airport for four hours even though he had a green card. He also recollects being profiled in airports often.
To help combat the negative affects of the travel ban, Arodaki protested at Los Angeles Airport twice, helped organize the ULV March of Solidarity and signed up to help lawyers communicate with Arabic-speaking refugees.
“As Muslim Americans we want to defend ourselves, but we also want to work for the Black movement, LGBTQ rights and Mexican community who will be affected by the wall,” Arodaki said. “If the spotlight is always on you, you feel appreciated, but you don’t always want to be the victim.”
Arodaki said that now that he is a citizen he utilizes the freedoms he has to help save lives. He is an activist for the Syrian revolution, something he would not have been able to do if he was still in Kuwait.
“I know I am in the right place because I can figure out my life here, I can speak my mind, I can express my feelings, I can contribute to the community as an individual and as part of an organization,” Arodaki said.
Despite the good Arodaki does in the community, he said he does fear that if the ban passes on Muslims, it will not be long before other groups are oppressed as well.
His advice for others who may not understand the situation is to ask those who are affected by the negative rhetoric of the travel ban.
“Talk to them,” Arodaki said. “The people who don’t understand or accuse people of being potential terrorists or criminals, (need to) ask them why they came here and how they were running from a dictator, or from a place where drugs are allowed and crimes are happening right and left. Don’t judge them based on the media and what you hear from other people.”
Brooke Grasso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.