Iranian Engineer Returns to the US After Travel Ban Put Her Life on Hold

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An Iranian engineer is back in the United States after President Donald Trump’s travel ban left her in limbo for a week in her native country.

Nazanin Zinouri is shown with her dog, Dexter, in a photo uploaded to her Facebook page on Oct. 29, 2016.

Nazanin Zinouri is shown with her dog, Dexter, in a photo uploaded to her Facebook page on Oct. 29, 2016.

Recent Clemson University graduate Nazanin Zinouri touched down in Boston’s Logan International Airport early Sunday afternoon after more than a day of air travel from Tehran.

Her journey back to South Carolina continues Monday, when she will be reunited with her puppy and resume the life she has known for the past seven years.

Zinouri was one of many foreign workers blindsided by President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order banning residents of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, from traveling to the United States. A temporary restraining order put key provisions of the order on hold, allowing green card holders and those with work visas like Zinouri to return to the United States from travel abroad.

“I still can’t believe this actually happened,” she told CNN at the airport Sunday. “I didn’t see this coming any time soon, so this is definitely beyond whatever I could imagine.”

Denied re-entry to the United States

Zinouri is one of a number of people rushing to return to the United States while the ban is temporarily suspended.

A federal appeals court on Sunday denied the government’s request to resume the travel ban, but it’s unclear how long the stay will last, or how things will ultimately play out.

For the time being, those eligible to return are taking advantage of the window of opportunity. In airports across the country this weekend, families and friends greeted returning travelers in emotional reunions.

Zinouri went on vacation on Jan. 20, the same day Trump was inaugurated, intending to visit family and friends in Tehran through Feb. 10. She cut her trip short when President Trump signed the order on Jan. 28 halting travel and rushed to get back to the United States.

She made it to Dubai before she was removed from the flight on Jan. 29 and sent back to Tehran. At the time, she thought about what would happen to her house in Greenville, South Carolina. She thought about her car, still sitting at the airport. She thought about her 6-month-old puppy, Dexter, and what would happen to him.

But after thinking of those “simple things,” she said in an interview with CNN, the reality of the situation dawned on her.

“I actually might lose my entire life there.”

Zinouri told her story in a Facebook post that went viral, in one of many stories to encapsulate the anger and confusion surrounding the ban.

Waiting: The hardest part

The hardest part of the past week was not knowing what would happen, Zinouri told CNN on Sunday. She wavered between holding onto hope for her return and trying to imagine what she would do instead.

“It was a difficult decision,” she said. “Am I going to think about possibly … not having my life here … or, do I keep believing that I will get back here somehow?

“How long do I wait?”

After a long trip through Frankfurt, representatives from Clemson University and her employer, Clemson-based tech company Modjoul, greeted her at Logan airport on Sunday.

“We are glad that Nazanin had the courage and bravery to board the flight without any guarantee of how she would be received upon her arrival. We are so glad she is home and can be reunited with her dog, her friends and her colleagues,” said Eric Martinez, founder and CEO of Modjoul.

Zinouri recently earned her Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Clemson and was awarded the Janine Anthony Bowen Graduate Fellow award for outstanding academic performance in her field. She has worked at Modjoul for the past six months under a worker visa.

While Zinouri waited in Tehran for an update, her community rallied around her. Support, material and emotional, poured in from various corners, she said. It’s given her a renewed appreciation for her life in the United States.

“Just knowing how much certain things mean to me, how much certain people care about me, that’s definitely amazing,” she said.

Otherwise, she hopes, “everything else should be back to normal.”