Students still uneasy, despite travel-ban ruling

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Leen Al Kassab, a Harvard pre-med student, calls the ban misguided.

By Globe Staff 

Even as a federal judge in Hawaii temporarily blocked the latest Trump administration travel ban, college students from the affected countries said they remained worried.

“Obviously, it’s good to hear that it’s not going to be going into effect tomorrow,” said Anwar Omeish, 21, a Harvard junior. “But living on the edge of our seats and waiting for the courts to invalidate the ridiculous policies that the president is passing is not a sustainable or particularly healthy political system. “


Although Omeish is a US citizen, she is nevertheless one of tens of thousands in the nation who would be affected if the latest travel ban had been enacted on Wednesday, as planned. Many are unwilling leave the country, fearful that if they do, they won’t be able to return to their studies or jobs here.

On Tuesday afternoon, US District Judge Derrick Watson wrote that President Trump’s executive order “plainly discriminates based on nationality in the manner that the 9th Circuit has found antithetical to . . . the founding principles of this nation.”

He planned an expedited hearing to determine whether the temporary restraining order should be extended.

The latest travel ban, announced in September, is aimed at citizens from six Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Chad — as well as North Korea and Venezuelan government officials and their families.

The temporary stay does not apply to North Korea or Venezuela.


Being forced to choose between a Harvard University education or seeing her family is no choice at all for 21-year-old Leen Al Kassab.

A senior pre-med student of Syrian and Lebanese descent, Al Kassab said the latest travel ban, if implemented, would mean her parents may not be able to see her graduate in May.

An earlier iteration of the ban kept Al Kassab from going to her grandmother’s funeral in February, because she feared she would not be able to return to Cambridge.

“These aren’t terrorists,” Al Kassab said of those in the United States who are potentially affected by the ban.“They’re people like me: students, intellectuals, academics. It’s affecting people who are refugees, who are actually contributing to cultural diversity and growth.”

Omeish said there’s a concern that unlike the outrage seen earlier this year — when an executive order temporarily closed the country to all refugees, as well as to people from seven predominantly Muslim nations, provoking chaos, protests, and court challenges — this ban appears to be unnoticed outside of legal and political circles.

Omeish, founder of the Harvard Islamic Society’s Anti-Islamophobia Network, helped organize a vigil scheduled for Tuesday night in Cambridge, for people to show their unity and concern. “We wanted to create a space for solidarity and support for people affected,” Omeish said. “A lot of times conversations around policies erase the personal experiences of people involved.”


Nearly 100 people posted on Facebook that they planned to attend the vigil. It was set to end with information about actions being taken locally.

Many of Omeish’s relatives still live in Libya. Her grandfather visited Omeish and her immediate family in the United States for the first time last year. She’d never seen her mother so happy.

“I have things coming up in my life I want my grandparents and uncles to attend,” Omeish said. “These bans are not about some national security specter coming to get our country. What these bans are doing is preventing people from going home and seeing their families. They’re deeply isolating.”

Roxbury resident Omar Khoshafa planned to attend Tuesday’s vigil. He recalled his most recent visit to Yemen, in 2013, when he attended his cousin’s engagement ceremony. At one point during his visit, a drone flew overhead.

Today, the 23-year-old Harvard graduate is working for Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s chief of staff as part of a fellowship.

“The messaging, the signaling [of the travel ban],” he said, “is ‘we want a country with less Muslims . . . regardless of your contribution in society, regardless of what you do.’ ”

Cristela Guerra can be reached at
Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.