A week after it was enacted, a federal judge temporarily blocked President Trump’s ban on individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries. Still, many immigrants are unsure of how long the blockage of the ban will last. And as the fate of the executive order remains uncertain, so does their employment status, as well as their (and their family’s) ability to travel abroad.
The ban has not only affected the lives of citizens from the seven listed countries, it also has economic and workplace consequences for the U.S. companies who employ them: 97 U.S. companies–from startups to some of the biggest tech firms–recently filed an amicus brief against the ban.
Immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen positively contribute economically in the U.S. Many are also the type of skilled knowledge workers that are critical to the success of U.S. businesses. At Google alone, at least 187 employees were affected by Trump’s ban.
I spoke to four people directly affected by the ban about their thoughts about the future and what their employers are saying. All four requested anonymity due to fear of reprisal from the government.
“Norah” has spent more time alone in the last week than she has in her entire adult life. Though both she and her husband are allowed to live and work in the U.S. on employment authorization documents, her husband and their young son were visiting relatives in Iraq when the ban took effect, leaving her separated from her family. “I feel like a never-ending midnight has settled around me, and dawn will never break,” Norah says.
Norah saves American lives. She works at one of the largest cancer research organizations in the U.S., and as a doctor, her specialty is in the early diagnosis of some of the most devastating diseases in existence. A few days ago she saw a patient she previously diagnosed with early-stage cancer that is difficult to treat if it’s not caught soon enough. He came in to see her wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. “I know he didn’t mean anything by it. I know him personally, and he is a good man,” she says.
“It probably didn’t even occur to him that the man he supported for president just enacted a ban that has devastating consequences for my family.” Norah didn’t mention anything about the hat or ban to her patient. “The only thing he should be focusing on right now is getting better,” she says. But after the patient left, Norah sat in her office and cried.
“That’s when the head of my department came in. He knew my family was trapped outside America and put two and two together. And he just listened to me and let me cry; let me get it all out,” she says. “It was the best support he could give me; just listening.”
“Ali” first came to the U.S. from Libya over 20 years ago. “As a student, just living here for a few years showed me the greatness that could be achieved in a free country,” he says. After returning to Libya for many years, Ali then moved back to the U.S. to work for a mid-sized private advertising firm and has been directly involved with ad campaigns that address what it means to be “American.”
Then the ban took effect on January 27. “I really didn’t think Trump would do it. I hoped not, anyway,” he says. “As someone who works in advertising, I get that appealing to his voters’ sense of fear over Muslims will result in a branding win, but the policy does not make economic or democratic sense.” Ali says that the ban has forced him to cancel an upcoming trip abroad, but others he knows have been affected much worse.
Ali’s company has not shown any signs of opposing the ban. “The owner is a big Trump supporter,” Ali says. “I think since he sees that the ban has not affected my ability to work here, it’s no big deal.” Other employees, however, have been more supportive. “Half of my colleagues came to me, and they said they were sorry for what Trump was doing. Then they presented me with a card, and it stated that combined they had donated $1,000 to the ACLU the week after the ban was announced. Together we’ve had some big advertising campaign wins over the years, but I have never been more proud or appreciative of my colleagues than then.”
It’s Heartwarming That My Employer Has Offered Sympathy, But There Is Not Much They Can Do If I Am Not Allowed To Work Legally
“Mo” is an assistant professor of research at a tier-1 university in the Midwest. Originally from Iran, he has lived in the U.S. for 15 years. He works legally in the country with employment authorization documents and has had his green card application pending for two years. His green card application is based on an approved National Interest Waiver petition, which mean that his area of expertise is deemed to be in the national interest of the U.S.
“The biggest impact [of the ban] is on my ability to continue my work in the university,” Mo told me before the block of the ban was in place. He noted that the ban stalled the processing of any immigration petition, including his pending green card application. “My work authorization expires in March, and I filed my renewal request back in November. However, due to this ban, my renewal request will not be processed, and as of now, this means both my wife and I will not be able to work.”
“I am proud that my university has made a public statement raising concern about the impact of this executive order on the university as well as the nation in general,” says Mo. “I do believe that American companies and institutes need to take a public stance on this matter, since that is probably the only hope of influencing a change in the policies. In my own case, it is certainly heartwarming that my employer has offered support and sympathy toward the issue, but ultimately, there is not much they can do to help me personally if I am not allowed to work legally.”
“Sara” is originally from Somalia. She came to the U.S. over five years ago to study and then was hired by a large and well-known tech company as a software engineer under the H-1B visa program. Like many in her situation, Sara was very upset when she heard of the ban. Though she is safely in the country, her mother who lives in Somalia is sick, and she worries that if her mother’s health takes a turn for the worse, she’ll have to choose between being at her mother’s bedside or having a job.
“It is very hurtful what the president and his closest aides have enacted,” Sara says. “Before, there was so much hope. Now there is only fear.” But that fear hasn’t got the best of her. She’s actively involved in planning protests against the ban. “In parts of my country, planning a protest like this could get you killed. People like me, good Muslims, don’t come to America to threaten it. We come because we admire it and the freedom it provides.”
Sara says her division managers at the tech giant she works for allowed her time out from her workday to help plan protests with a larger organization. Her managers and most coworkers have also made protest signs and said they’ll stand by her side in an upcoming march. “This is what is great about America–we stand together,” she says.