Immigration Ban Caught in Limbo

A German-Iranian who works at Google and is enrolled at Stanford Business School writes about the diversity that has made Silicon Valley so successful – and how President Trump's new executive order is jeopardizing that diversity.
America's airports have become the latest sites for protests.

I have called the United States my new home since 2011, and I live in San Francisco. But since last Friday, I now feel unwanted and downgraded to a second-class status. Donald Trump and his crude immigration policy have changed the way I view America, at least for now.

I was born and raised in Germany, but I also have Iranian citizenship through my parents, who are both from Iran. I also have an American green card, which is an open-ended work and residency permit. But apparently neither my German citizenship nor my green card can protect me from being turned back at the border if I leave and then try to return to the United States in the future.

Ironically, my story was a very hopeful one when it began in the United States. I came to Silicon Valley to work for Google, where I was in charge of distribution partnerships for all of Latin America. At the time, I was entering and leaving the United States almost monthly, and every time I returned I was greeted with a warm "Sir, welcome back home" the minute I had set foot on American soil.

Anyone who has never been to Silicon Valley needs to imagine it as a place in the world where seemingly everything is possible. This is where people are literally living the American dream. It's a place that is shaped by immigrants from all over the world. More than 90 percent of the people in my team at Google had dual citizenship. Foreigners make up more than 40 percent of my class at Stanford University, where I am currently in an MBA program. The diversity of ideas there, at the center of the modern world, stems from the diversity of people. Most of all, it is the non-Americans who make it such a special place.

My attorneys are warning me not to leave the country, the international student center at Stanford is holding special sessions for concerned students.

I still intend to establish my own company in Silicon Valley, just as many immigrants before me have done. Steve Jobs, for example, was the son of a Syrian refugee. But instead of working toward my dream, I am now preoccupied with this great sense of uncertainty.

Everything seems to have been turned upside down. My attorneys are warning me not to leave the country, the international student center at Stanford is holding special sessions for concerned students, and I have started cancelling my upcoming flights. They include a business trip to Mexico, where I plan to conduct interviews for my business ideas, the wedding of a very good friend in Colombia and a study trip to Italy, which I have organized for 25 of my fellow students.

I'm practically stuck here. My brother, who works for Facebook here in the Valley, is in the same position. And our parents? Well, although they hold German citizenship and have a valid entry visa for the United States, as native Iranians they are no longer permitted to visit us. Apparently the ban is only valid for 90 days, but I have a feeling that this is just the beginning.

Last weekend, when I couldn't stand sitting around at home anymore, I got in the car and drove to San Francisco airport, where thousands had gathered to protest against the new ban. I saw Jews and Christians who had come to support their Muslim brothers and sisters. People were holding up signs in different languages, and volunteers brought in pizza and bottled water for the protesters.

In many respects, the diversity and uniqueness of Silicon Valley is reflected in the sea of demonstrators. But I'm still worried, despite the strong counter-reaction that Mr. Trump's executive order has triggered. I'm worried about how this country will change in the next four years.

I'm worried about how society will change, and whether the new administration of President Donald Trump will do long-term damage to the DNA that has made Silicon Valley so successful, a place that is fundamentally shaped by the diversity of its people. But what gives me great hope is the fact that many people in the United States, especially here in Silicon Valley, are unwilling to accept what is happening here.

 

The author is a German citizen with Iranian parents, currently living in San Francisco. To contact: [email protected]