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Samira Asgari, a computational biologist with a newly minted PhD, was on the verge of starting a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School studying infectious diseases when she was stopped from boarding her flight to Boston this weekend. The 30-year-old Iranian scientist, who completed her doctorate at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland last spring, says: “…A gentleman stopped me from boarding the plane. He told me he was a consulate of the American government in Frankfurt and not allowing anybody with a number of nationalities to board planes to the United States.” Despite having a valid visa and having traveled to the US five times in the past, the promising young researcher, who had already quit her job and given up her apartment in preparation for the move, was left stranded — and feeling differently about the United States. “America always seemed like a land of opportunity, that if you’re willing to be a part of this community, it reciprocates,” she says. “That has changed. The image of America as a country that is free and that has a history of fighting discrimination, of fighting biases — it’s like going a step back.”
Samira was going to start working with Dr. Soumya Raychaudhuri, a rheumatologist at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, on a tuberculosis project. “I was going to do research on genomics of infectious disorders,” she explains. “I’m trying to understand how human genetics affect susceptibility to different infectious agents, and how we can help those people [with infections].” Making arrangements to come to the US took seven months: “I’ve done interviews for postdoc positions since July, I’ve already been in the US for interviews, and then I started writing my grant proposal. I put a lot of research into that.” She was approved for a J-1 visa and even won an award granting her two years of funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation, which would have paid her salary in full. “I was really ready to go,” Samira says. “I had done everything right.”
She still finds it hard to believe this is happening. “My first reaction was: But I have a valid visa,” she recalls. “He told me this is an American government-issued visa, and they decided they are not valid, so I cannot board the plane… He was there to execute the order. I was left to deal with it.” Even if the ban ends up being temporary, Samira says that her visa will expire by then and she’s uncertain if she’ll be able to secure a new one; leaving her entire fellowship and the contributions she could have made toward fighting infectious diseases up in the air. “The United States is the place everybody thinks that if you’re good enough, and work hard enough, you can reach anything you want,” she says. “It’s a land of many generations of immigrants, many people who came on visas who have contributed to the community. My hope was I could bring my expertise and learn from the great research community in Boston. That didn’t happen.”
You can read an interview with Samira about her experiences on Vox, visit http://bit.ly/2jwj5Yj — or to read more about how scientists have been affected by the Administration’s ban in Scientific American at http://bit.ly/2jMRztd
Several civil rights groups are already taking legal action against the Administration’s illegal Muslim ban. To support these organizations’ legal fight with your donations and advocacy, visit the ACLU Nationwide (https://www.aclu.org/) and the National Immigration Law Center (https://www.nilc.org/). To learn more about how to take a stand as an individual, visit the Indivisible Guide (https://www.indivisibleguide.com/).
For an excellent new book to foster children’s empathy for people from other countries by showing them that we all came from somewhere else, check out “This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From” for ages 4 to 8 at http://www.amightygirl.com/this-is-me
For books about Mighty Girls who stand together for justice and acceptance of all people, check out our blog post “Standing Together: 50 Mighty Girl Books Celebrating Diversity and Acceptance” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=13481
For books for children and teens about the value of diversity, check out our “Multicultural Fiction” book section at http://amgrl.co/1Kg7N5R
Scientists like Samira Asgari are fantastic role models for Mighty Girls everywhere! To introduce young readers to more inspiring female scientists, check out our blog post, “Celebrating Science: 50 Books to Inspire Science-Loving Mighty Girls,” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=13914