0945 GMT October 22, 2017
One of the world’s great mathematicians, Iranian-born Stanford University professor Maryam Mirzakhani, would have been blocked from the United States if the Trump administration’s first travel ban had been in effect when she originally tried to enter America. Mirzakhani, who died Friday, July 14th at age 40, is the only woman to win the Fields Medal, the world’s most prestigious award for mathematics.
Born in Tehran, Maryam Mirzakhani shattered barriers by becoming the first female ever to compete for Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team. After completing a degree at Sharif University, she obtained a student visa to attend graduate school at Harvard, where she earned a PhD in 2004. Until her death from cancer, Maryam Mirzakhani taught at Stanford University, becoming a professor in 2008. Her Stanford colleagues considered her a great teacher and role model.
The original Trump administration travel ban, issued in January 2017, would have prevented the entry of individuals from seven countries, including Iran. After being blocked by federal courts, the administration issued a revised executive order in March 2017 that also would have prevented the entry of Iranians and individuals from five other countries (Iraq was removed from the list), this time permitting lawful permanent residents and current visa holders.
The travel ban reached the Supreme Court, which allowed parts of it to go into effect, pending a full hearing later this year. “The court will hear arguments on the ban — which denied visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries and paused admission of refugees from across the globe — and, in the meantime, the justices limited the directive’s impact on foreigners with clear ties to individuals, businesses or organizations in the United States,” reported Politico.
“The first Executive Order on its face barred the entry of all aliens from one of the listed countries, including Iran,” said Daniel Pierce, an immigration attorney at Fragomen Worldwide, in an interview. “Thus, even a mathematician of great renown like Prof. Mirzakhani would have been prevented from entering the United States unless she had already become a US citizen.”
Many outstanding individuals would not be in America if the administration’s travel ban had been in effect when they applied to enter the country. This would have been unfortunate, since history shows combining foreign-born and native-born talent creates a win-win for America.
When Olav Bergheim brought a young relative to see Dr. Richard Hill for glaucoma, Dr. Hill told Bergheim that he had an idea for a new treatment method. Bergheim decided to back the idea with capital. Dr. Hill, a native-born American, and Bergheim, who was born in Norway, turned to professor and engineer Mory Gharib, who was born in Iran. Gharib developed the prototype for the “first human implant of a micro-bypass stent” to treat glaucoma patients. The company the three men formed, Glaukos, today is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Iranian-born immigrant Pardis Sabeti, a computational biologist, medical geneticist and evolutionary geneticist at Harvard University, is credited with helping to track down the start of the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. Firouz M. Naderi, also born in Iran, served as associate director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and as NASA’s director for Solar System Exploration.
The founders of Zoosk, the romantic social network, were both born in Iran. Alex Mehr and Shayan Zadeh met in Iran as students in the 1990s. “Their dream was to someday start a company together and achieve success in the United States.” Started in 2007, today Zoosk has about 200 employees and 35 million members.
By allowing the second Executive Order partially to go into effect, the Supreme Court is allowing individuals from the targeted countries to gain entry to the United States only if they have a preexisting “bona fide” relationship. “However, the ban as it currently stands, prevents the next mathematics or science superstar of Prof. Mirzakhani’s caliber from migrating here,” notes attorney Daniel Pierce. “If you are an Iranian high school student who shows immense promise in your field and who dreams of studying at a US university, your dreams are currently on hold unless you’ve already been accepted to a US university or you already have family members here.”
And this is what we should be concerned about when evaluating any government policies – the future, unseen impact of unreasonable government restrictions, in this case on the movement of people. “The Trump administration and the Supreme Court have erected a barrier that says that the next generation of mathematics superstars from Iran or Yemen need not apply, at least until this fall when the Supreme Court hears the case,” said Pierce. “Even if you are comfortable with the notion that the president can keep us safe by banning groups of aliens, it is tough to understand the basis for the conclusion that these individuals are ‘detrimental’ to our country’s security as the Executive Order concludes.”
Blocking individuals from entering America based on their place of birth or religion represents bad policy on many levels. Just because someone was born in a particular country it does not mean he or she is a threat, or even agrees with the policies of that country’s leaders. Americans of all political stripes should understand that better than anyone.
*Stuart Anderson is a contributor to Forbes magazine, from which the above article was taken.