Trump's Immigration Order Is Already Harming Scientists

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In April, a half dozen polar scientists are meeting at a US Air National Guard base in upstate New York to board an LC-130 cargo plane bound for Greenland. Once there, the researchers will spend a month traversing remote glacial terrain on snow mobiles, taking measurements at field stations to help NASA determine how quickly our planet’s vast northern ice sheet is melting.

There’s just one problem: one of the team members, Samira Samimi, is no longer allowed to enter the United States to board that plane. With a stroke of a pen on January 27th, Donald Trump barred the Iranian glaciologist, a PhD student at the University of Calgary, Canada, from joining her team members. His executive order has thrown the group’s spring field season preparations into disarray and left Samimi fearful for the future of her research.

“I’m in between this being a joke and a nightmare,” Samimi told Gizmodo. “It took me forever to get somewhere that I can become a glaciologist. This [research project] is my whole PhD.”
“There’s nothing about this that is right,” Mike MacFerrin, a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder who is leading the multi-year field study, told Gizmodo. “There’s no way that this helps our science at all.”

Samimi, MacFerrin, and their colleagues are not the only scientists reeling from Trump’s executive order on immigration, which bars citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—from entering the United States for 90 days, and calls for rigorous vetting of US visa applications from those countries thereafter. Scores of foreign-born scientists and engineers who hold research or teaching positions at American universities and companies are now fearful that if they leave the United States, they’ll be denied re-entry. Tech companies like Google have urged at-risk employees traveling abroad to return home as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, some stateside researchers are now considering leaving the United States for good.

Those researchers include Sarah*, an Iranian Earth scientist based at a top-tier university. “It’s been a few very horribly rough days,” she told Gizmodo.

Sarah and her husband, also an Iranian, both received their PhDs in the United States, and both are now employed as post-doctoral researchers. They applied for a green card last year, and have yet to hear anything back. Her husband’s current fellowship expires in a month.

“We’ve already started looking into immigrating to Canada,” Sarah said. “There are thousands more like us.”

Indeed, as an open letter which has been signed by over 7000 academics and 40 Nobel Laureates notes, more than 3000 students from Iran have received PhDs at American universities over the past three years, many in fields of science. As of Sunday, it appears those who hold green cards will not be banned from entering the country. But many Iranians, like Sarah and her husband, are in the country on work visas, meaning if they leave they cannot come back. Their parents and loved ones cannot come visit them.

“It’s like being in prison,” she said.

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