Yesterday I got several emails from various people at charge at the university stating that they are concerned about the people who are directly affected by the US ban on people from muslim-majority countries to enter US. And what I got from the context was that by “directly affected” they meant business. It is great to live and work in a community that they care about you. One of the emails asked to write up all the ways that we are affected by this law so that they can have a collective report on all the issues and act accordingly when needed.
I told them about a couple of conferences that I am invited to go to in April and in July, and a couple other workshops and conferences that I was planning to participate in, since I was going to be in US any ways. I told them that now I cannot attend these conferences, and can’t give talks there. What I didn’t tell them was that I don’t even know how I am supposed to proceed with this situation. Shall I just email the organizers and tell them that I can’t make it because of these laws, so that they have enough time to replace me? Or shall I still apply for the visa, pay the $160 fee, spend half a work-day for interview, book the hotel and flights, and all the other paperwork, and then hope that in a month or two the problem will be solved? And if it didn’t, then I can email the organizers and hope that they understand my situation? Shall I even consider other conferences in the future? What about the special session at JMM that we were going to organize next year?
I told them about all the jobs that I have applied to in the US and that now even if I get them, I won’t be able to go and work. What I haven’t told them is that I’m now worried that they won’t even consider my application since it will be a 100% waste of their time and resources. What I can’t even get straight in my head is that shall I apply for more jobs in the US, prepare cover letters, read their websites, contact people there, and hope that I get an interview and by the time that I am flying in for the interview miracles happen and they terminate the bans? Or shall I just spend the time and work on my possible less desirable options here, because I know I can stay here if I get the job?
I even told them about my long term concerns that people who are graduating from here or finishing their postdocs won’t be placed in any positions in US, and that means that 10 years from now none of these people will be in any of the US schools. That could affect the university’s ranking, the networks that could be built but won’t exist any more, and the collaborations that are going to be ruined. What I couldn’t tell them is that I moved to US eight years ago knowing that I won’t go back to my country for a long time. So I built connections, I found support groups, friends, and colleagues who stood by me as I went through troubles, and who celebrated with me as I stepped up the stairs of success. People who filled the empty places of my family and friends from back home. These are the people who offered me their home to stay in, their time to spend with me, positions that I could apply for, their basement to hide in if ever FBI is on my foot, research topics to work on together, jobs at their business if I couldn’t find other jobs, and much much more. Even though some of them are jokes, it makes a whole lot of difference to know someone is out there who you can rely on, someone that you can simply spend a night on their couch if you need it, even if that “if” is so far away. It is calming, it’s heart-warming. What I couldn’t talk about is this sense of being supported that I don’t feel that it exists any more, even when many of them call and text me to tell me that they love me, they think of me, and they are sorry for what is happening. The intentions sure exist, but the connections are lost. And no matter what happens to these laws, the stress that it has caused is going to remain. I wish I could tell about these effects to someone!
Of course, compared to the concerns of my friends in US these are just a bunch of nonsense. But they are as real as it can get.
PS1: I need to mention that as an Iranian who lived in US under the Student status, I only had a single-entry visa to US and the risks of getting another one, if I exited the country, was so high that I and many others refrained from exiting US for the entire time that we were students, and even after that. That meant, I never went back home, missed several conferences that I was invited to attend and give a talk, some very important for my career, and I didn’t even consider participating in many other conferences and workshops. This means, the only difference that the new president has made is that he made the “high chance” to become “certain”. I was called a “potentially terrorist” when I first interviewed for my US student visa (I was 22 back then and I could take things as jokes), and I’ve always been discriminated against because of my country of origin, whether it is at an embassy for a visa interview, that I had to provide lots more documents and wait for undetermined amount of time until they make decisions, or it was applying for a scholarship or a job that they didn’t like Iranians for “security” reasons, or just because they thought I won’t be able to get a visa or permit to work/study there.
PS2: Here is an Statement of Inclusiveness signed by several academics, and it is already adopted by some conferences.