Somalian laborers in Oklahoma’s panhandle, Iranian students in Norman and Iraqi refugees in Tulsa represent just some of the communities of Oklahomans potentially impacted by a federal travel ban for seven predominately Muslim countries.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week barring admittance into the United States of citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The travel ban created immediate turmoil at the nation’s largest airports where custom agents have detained hundreds and sent back many more.
In Oklahoma, where a fledgling community of Middle Eastern immigrants continues to grow, residents impacted by the ban expressed worry over travel limitations and fear the land they have found to be hospitable is turning against them.
“My wife will have our first child in June and we were thinking her mother can come over and stay for a couple of months and go back after things have settled down,” said Farid Omoumi, an Iranian-born American citizen who is studying medical imaging at the University of Oklahoma. “When we heard that news (about the travel ban) it was a mix of anger, shock … I didn’t want to accept it.”
Omoumi said his mother in law, who lives in Iran, was going to travel to Oklahoma and help take care of the baby. That plan is tentatively off as she would not be able to enter the United States under the current ban.
Following days of chaos, the Department of Homeland Security clarified that the ban would not include green card holders and others who are legally allowed to enter the United States with proper paperwork.
However, those waiting on relatives to enter under a visa said there is still confusion.
Hamed Mirmozafari, an Iranian studying in Oklahoma under a student visa, said his father had scheduled an appointment with an American embassy in Turkey to secure the proper paperwork to travel to the United States. The appointments take months to schedule, but following the travel ban the father was told by the embassy there was no point in coming, Mirmozafari said.
Mirmozafari’s wife, Azadeh Gilanpour, who is also in Oklahoma under a student visa, has told her parents she is not sure they will be able to visit.
“They asked us, ‘Can we visit you again?’” Gilanpour said. “I said I don’t know.”
More than 100 students from the countries on the president’s ban are enrolled at OU, according to university staff. OU President David Boren said the university had encouraged all students from the seven nations to stay in the United States or hurry home.
“I especially want to reiterate our strong support for our international students, who are valued members of our university family,” Boren said in a statement. “Bringing international students to study in our country helps build lasting friendships with people all around the world.”
Democrats immediately rebuked Trump’s travel ban and a few Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, criticized the president for the move, saying “We fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”
Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma offered a more measured critique of the travel ban.
“This executive action has some unintended consequences that were not well thought out,” Lankford said in a Sunday statement. “I encourage the president’s staff to evaluate American policy with an eye on both security and compassion for the refugees fleeing the terrors of war and persecution. For decades, our resettlement program has maintained a very extensive multi-year screening process for refugees from all over the world.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, defended the travel ban said it was a move to protect Americans.
“Critics have described the order as a Muslim ban. It is not. It does not impact over 40 Muslim-majority countries,” Cole said in a Monday statement. “Some have claimed the order is illegal. It is not.
“While the courts will ultimately rule on this matter, it appears that the President is acting within the law and the recognized powers of the presidency.”
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s office did not return a request for comment.
While Trump’s travel ban targets entire nations, many have referred to it as a backhanded ban on Muslims. During his campaign, Trump had at one time called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the country and last week said he wants priority given to Christian refugees when the bans are lifted.
“We must remember that these policies are an echo of a darker time in American history when we demonized Japanese-American citizens because of their ethnic background and turned away needy Jewish refugees out of fear and suspicion,” said Veronica Laizure, civil rights director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma chapter. “These executive orders are the continuation of a policy that is Islamophobic, xenophobic, and bigoted, and they do not make our country safer; rather, they marginalize our Muslim neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family, and do not reflect our nation’s values of religious and ethnic inclusion.”
Elham Tajik, another Iranian student at OU, said she has found America to be a friendly place since moving here in 2014. When she heard about the travel ban, which would prevent her from leaving and coming back since she is in the country on a single-entry visa, Tajik said she was shocked.
“I couldn’t believe that,” Tajik said. “It is not the vision I had of America.”