The high price of Trump’s visa poli­cies

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY YAS­MINE BAHRANI Yas­mine Bahrani is a pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­ism at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity in Dubai.

The month of May is grad­u­a­tion time here in Dubai, too. The se­niors at the uni­ver­sity where I teach hap­pily toss their mor­tar­boards into the air and pose for self­ies, as se­niors do an­nu­ally. But this year some­thing is dif­fer­ent: When I ask the new grads where they will go for their sum­mer in­tern­ships or jobs or even va­ca­tions, I’m hear­ing much more un­cer­tainty than in years past. One Emi­rati student told me he had to can­cel his plans to travel to the United States. “Most of us can’t get visas to the U.S.,” he said. An­other Emi­rati said she’ll prob­a­bly go to Bri­tain be­cause her plans for a sum­mer in­tern­ship in New York fell through when she could not get a visa. Lon­don is hardly a con­so­la­tion prize, but why deny these stu­dents a chance to visit the United States?

Mind you, the United Arab Emi­rates is not on the list of six coun­tries whose na­tion­als are the fo­cus of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­tro­ver­sial travel ban (and even that ban is in limbo as it makes its way through the U.S. courts). But I also have a student from Syria — which is on the list, along with Iran, Libya, So­ma­lia, Su­dan and Ye­men — who was ac­cepted by a U.S. grad­u­ate school but can­not get to it. Stu­dents also told me that, ban or no ban, their visas were de­nied or the re­sponse to their re­quests took so long that they gave up. These stu­dents weren’t seek­ing H1-B work visas; they wanted just to study. Now they’re tak­ing a last-minute look at Bri­tain and Canada. One Syr­ian student told me with re­lief that she was ac­cepted to Car­leton Uni­ver­sity in Ot­tawa to study jour­nal­ism. She’s one of the lucky ones.

It’s not just stu­dents who are fac­ing this dif­fi­culty. A fam­ily I know here had been granted visas by the U.S. Con­sulate in Dubai. But their at­tempt to at­tend a wed­ding in In­di­anapo­lis was blocked at the air­port. A U.S. con­sular of­fi­cer in Abu Dhabi can­celed the visas on their pass­ports and pre­vented them from board­ing the plane. Why? The fam­ily told me they weren’t given a rea­son, but they be­lieve it was be­cause their Bri­tish pass­ports in­di­cate they were born in Iraq. Iraq is no longer on the list of tar­geted coun­tries.

The in­ci­dent, ac­cord­ing to the mother, was “in­ex­pli­ca­ble.” Still, the par­ents re­mained po­lite, try­ing to re­tain their dig­nity even as they were be­ing hu­mil­i­ated. Their son, how­ever, a man in his 20s, gave way to his fury and swore an­grily at the visa of­fi­cer. I sus­pect the son’s out­rage is the more com­mon re­ac­tion to these travel frus­tra­tions. Cer­tainly, these prob­lems have changed some peo­ple’s views about the United States. Some who had oth­er­wise pos­i­tive views now curse the coun­try as racist. At a min­i­mum, oth­ers swear bit­terly they will never visit the United States again.

Any­one can un­der­stand the need to pro­tect Amer­i­cans from po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists, but the trade-off here is costly: In ex­change for the pos­si­bil­ity of bar­ring those who might in­tend harm, the United States is mak­ing de­trac­tors out of peo­ple who want to be friends.

My own stu­dents are good ex­am­ples. “What do I have to do with ter­ror­ism?” those in my class­room ask. The stu­dents have demon­strated re­peat­edly dur­ing our lively dis­cus­sions that they dream of a lib­eral so­ci­ety for the Mid­dle East, one that re­sem­bles the United States. They ad­mire the free­dom that the United States grants its cit­i­zens, which is one rea­son that they West­ern­ize them­selves: They dress in ripped jeans, know the words to the songs of Bey­oncé and Drake, and even keep up with the Kar­dashi­ans.

Young as they are, they un­der­stand as well that some of the most outspoken de­fend­ers of Mus­lims in the United States right now are Chris­tians and Jews. But they per­ceive the gov­ern­ment as prob­lem­atic. They are ask­ing whether the United States has a prob­lem with all Arabs and Mus­lims. The key­note speaker at this month’s grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony was Don­ald Trump Jr., who urged the se­niors to dare to fol­low their dreams. What if their dreams in­volve learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the United States?

Is it wise to prevent ex­actly the kind of peo­ple who should be en­gag­ing with the West from vis­it­ing? Why are Emi­ratis who are study­ing at an Amer­i­can cam­pus in the Gulf hav­ing trou­ble get­ting U.S. visas? Why are Iraqi-born Bri­tish cit­i­zens hav­ing their visas can­celed? It isn’t just Mus­lims fac­ing this is­sue. I know a fam­ily of Iraqi Chris­tians who have been wait­ing for their U.S. im­mi­gra­tion visas for years. Why? They were told just to wait. What kind of risk has been avoided by de­lay­ing en­try year af­ter year to a fam­ily of four Chris­tians?

In our class­room dis­cus­sions, my stu­dents have been pleased to learn that in the United States, any­one can ex­press his or her opin­ion. They’ve learned that any­one can freely prac­tice any faith. They’ve learned that gay peo­ple can marry. My stu­dents see the United States as a cool coun­try, which is why they wish to know it bet­ter, why they want to visit. Last Sun­day, Pres­i­dent Trump may have spo­ken of “friend­ship and hope” be­tween the United States and the Mid­dle East in his ad­dress in Saudi Ara­bia, but these new grad­u­ates have just been pre­sented with a les­son about the United States that I wish they hadn’t had to learn at all.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.