Trump order strands Weybridge family in Iran: Middlebury College helping professor get home

WEYBRIDGE and TABRIZ, Iran — Close to 6,000 miles away in the northwestern corner of Iran, a Weybridge family is hastily packing.
“We are planning to fly back to the U.S. on Friday and, as you can imagine, it is mayhem here in our house with packing and stuff. We’ll hopefully be in Vermont on Saturday if everything goes smoothly,” wrote Middlebury College professor Ata Anzali in an email to the Independent on Tuesday.
Anzali, his wife Fahimeh Bahrami and daughters Narges and Esra (ages 11 and nine, respectively) are among the hundreds of Americans and the untold number of people worldwide affected by President Trump’s executive order suspending entry into the United States for 90 days for persons from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen; for 120 days for all refugees, regardless of nationality; and indefinitely for refugees from Syria.
Anzali, his wife and oldest daughter are green card holders: legal, permanent residents of the United States. Anzali’s youngest daughter is a U.S. citizen. Since last summer the family as been living in Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan Province, as part of Anzali’s year-long sabbatical from Middlebury College.
Anzali teaches Islamic Studies in the college’s religion department, and specializes in such topics as the Islamic mystical tradition and the study of the Quran.
“We decided to be here (in Iran) for a year because, in addition to my research, we wanted our kids to learn about the Iranian culture more. We wanted them — and us — to be able to spend time with their grandparents and cousins and others,” said Anzali.
The family’s plan had been to remain for his full sabbatical year. But as drafts of President Trump’s executive order began to circulate last week, Anzali began to reassess the family’s situation.
“I would have completed my research, my wife would have completed her field work for her dissertation, and our kids would have finished school here,” if we could stay until June, he said.
“The (executive order) basically meant mission abort for us.”
As with many of those affected by the President’s action, the Anzalis have seen some of the most personal aspects of their everyday lives thrown into turmoil.
“We have rented a house here, bought a car. We have a life here,” Ata Anzali said.
“And then in the span of one week, we first learn that we cannot go back and then, with the help of lawyers and lawsuits, we were advised to leave Iran for the U.S. as soon as possible.”
Andrea Lloyd, Middlebury College’s dean of faculty, reported an intense week as college officials talked repeatedly with Anzali, reached out to federal representatives and legal experts, and worked nonstop to assess the ever-changing situation on the ground.
Lloyd said that originally, Anzali had purchased airline tickets for the family to return to the United States on Sunday, Jan. 29. But as it became clearer over the weekend that legal permanent residents were being detained at airports, their status unclear, and as differing legal responses to the President’s executive order were issued from different cities, the Anzali family changed its mind about reentering the United States in the midst of so much uncertainty.
“He decided that it was too much of a risk to fly and risk getting detained,” said Lloyd.
The pace of events was somewhat staggering.
“This was all happening in real time,” Lloyd added. “And we were all sort of on the phone with Ata several of us, just trying to help him figure out what to do. I should also say that Sen. Leahy’s office has been enormously helpful in helping us figure out what was going on. We’re really grateful to them.”
Reflecting the chaos and confusion the order has unleashed, Lloyd said, “We do not have clarity. We have no more clarity than anyone else.
No other Middlebury faculty members or staff were swept up in the Trump travel ban. Middlebury College has one student from the seven effected countries — Sudan — and that student was already on campus.
“We are obviously keeping really close tabs on the situation, as it has an impact on the college as a whole,” Lloyd said. “We have a community of faculty, students and staff that’s drawn from around the world and goes out into the world.
“But right now, obviously, we’re really focused on Ata’s well being.”
Anzali said the executive order has left him feeling “frustrated and confused. Angry and sad. Just a month ago we signed a contract to purchase a house in Weybridge. The closing is in 45 days, and we suddenly found ourselves in a place that we might not ever see the house that we have purchased.”
As of the time of publication, Anzali and his family expected to fly into Boston’s Logan Airport on Friday.
   ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD Narges Anzali, right, is a legal resident of the United States and her sister, Esra, 9, is a U.S. citizen. Narges, who has lived in the United States for nine years, says “Does that make me different from the people who are around me and are citizens? I consider myself just as American.”
Courtesy photo
Being forced to suddenly change plans and wrench his family abruptly from his native to his adopted country undoubtedly comes with other emotional costs as well.
“My father-in-law had a brain stroke a couple of months ago,” said Anzali. “And my wife has been taking care of her dad. It is so heart breaking for both of them to be separated at this point.”
Back in Middlebury, Lloyd responded to the situation not just as a dean, but as a faculty colleague.
“Ata is an incredibly talented and committed teacher, who has given so much to the college and so much to our students,” she said. “He’s just a wonderful, wonderful person.
“I can hardly put into words how I feel about the impact that this is having on him. That somebody we all know and care about, who has given so much to our community, is being made to make the kinds of choices that he’s being asked to make, is being subjected to this kind of scrutiny. It’s just unconscionable.
“As a person, I feel so deeply for him and for what he and his family are going through. And it all feels very needless and very senseless.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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