By Hannah Bensen, Editor in Chief
When Patricia McIntyre first heard about President Trump’s travel ban, she was immediately concerned about how the policy might affect her family.
McIntyre, an English teacher at West Bend West High School, has a nephew, Amir Yasreb, and a former brother-in-law, Masoud Yasrebdoust, who are from Iran but currently live in the United States. Amir shortened his last name for clarity in the U.S.
The extent to which the travel ban will affect McIntyre’s family is still uncertain, but it has already had consequences for the family. Amir’s uncle, Saeed Yasrebdoust, travels between Iran and the United States with his American visa but was in Iran when the executive order was signed. McIntyre and her family are concerned that Saeed will face challenges re-entering the United States. He has a wife who speaks little English and a small child in the U.S.
The initial travel ban, which was enacted Jan. 27, banned all immigrants from seven Muslim- majority countries for 90 days and refugees for 120 days. After a series of public protests and legal challenges, the order was temporarily blocked by a federal district judge on Feb. 3.
“President Trump’s travel ban and the reaction to it exemplified the system of federal checks and balances that our Founding Fathers envisioned to fight tyranny and oppression,” said Mark Drake, a social studies teacher at West High School.
McIntyre’s nephew and former brother-in-law, who are dual citizens of the United States and Iran, had not planned to travel abroad in the next 90 days. However, McIntyre is worried that the travel ban will exacerbate the already fragile relations between the two countries as well as make it more difficult for the family to visit each other.
“I was really disappointed and saddened by it though I was not surprised,” McIntyre said. “I think it will continue to polarize the American citizens.”
McIntyre said that traveling for her family was difficult even before the travel ban was enacted, due to mutual suspicions between Iran and the United States.
When McIntyre’s nephew Amir wanted to return to Iran for his grandmother’s funeral in 2002, he had to travel to Washington D.C. to acquire an Iranian passport. It was then planned that Amir would surrender his American passport in a locker in the British airport before traveling to Iran in order to conceal the fact that he was an American citizen. While her nephew was in Iran, he could not speak English in public because this would expose that he was an American citizen.
“The idea being was that when you get to Iran and you disembark your plane, you don’t want Iranian officials to know you’re American, and you don’t want the American officials to know that you have Iranian dual citizenship because it automatically puts you into the category of a ‘person of interest’,” McIntyre said.
On the same trip to Iran, Amir was strip searched at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
“He fully expected that that would happen,” McIntyre said regarding the airport security. “And he understood it. He was traveling with his family and so it was a bunch of people traveling to the Middle East together, to a country of interest. It used to be harder; his aunts used to wear the chador, and if you were in an American airport and you were dressed with the full chador and veil, then of course people were looking at you like you were a terrorist. It’s been less difficult for men because they don’t have an article of clothing that gives them away. But once they see your name, and they know where you’re going, it brings the security level up a notch.”
As a result of experiences such as these, Amir was inspired to earn his bachelor’s degree in international affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He now helps Public Allies, a Milwaukee-based organization, relocate refugees from all over the world.
McIntyre is worried that Americans will become more distrustful of Islamic people and refugees because of the travel ban.
“I think there are always going to be people who rally behind a candidate or political policy strictly because they belong to that person’s party, instead of thinking things through,” McIntyre said. “They automatically assume that this must be a legitimate way to view people from those countries or a way to view Islamic people, and I think the travel ban will perpetuate those stereotypes. And then there will be others who say it’s completely unjustified and rally behind all Islamic people because of the injustice that comes along with the stereotype. What it comes down to is that people need to think individually on a case-by-case basis and stop seeing people merely as members of large groups.”
McIntyre has also been frustrated that she can say very little about the travel ban in the classroom without being quickly dismissed as having a political agenda.
“We can’t talk about the relevant events because if we do, it means we are potentially identifying ourselves as having a particular political allegiance,” McIntyre said. “I wouldn’t care which party it was that the president is from. This transcends the political parties. In my estimation, it’s just wrong to do this with such a sweeping executive order.”
President Trump has the legal authority to sign executive orders and enforce federal law, according to Drake.
“However, other parties have the ability to question the constitutionality of these executive orders through the courts,” Drake said. “Additionally, Congress maintains the ultimate law-making power. Finally, the American people can make their views known on this issue in many ways, including contacting their representatives, voting in national elections, joining interest group, donating money, and protesting the actions of these officials.”
McIntyre plans to contact government representatives to fight the travel ban.
“All I can do as a person is exercise my political freedom and political rights to contact my congressman,” McIntyre said.
(Top image: Amir Yasreb, Patricia McIntyre’s nephew, delivered a speech about what it means to be Iranian-American at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as part of a program sponsored by the International Peace Institute in 2013. Photograph courtesy of Yasreb.)