Omid's Journey

Unable to visit her back home, Omid has been communicating with his mother online.

“It is an urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees and mandates in all their actions, even in the sphere of foreign affairs. An anxious world must know that our Government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts.”

- Justice Anthony Kennedy

The first thing to go was her hair. That’s what Omid remembers at any rate — he was 9 when doctors first diagnosed his mother with cancer. He knew something was amiss when his father started caring for his mother; it became concrete when he first saw her without the hair he would play with as a child. It was hard for his mother, too, who did not relish seeing her son look on as she suffered.

That was 22 years ago, and his mother’s cancer has since gone into remission. As anyone aware of cancer’s cruelty knows, it is a lurking demon — it can always come back, and the second time is usually worse. She still goes in for monthly treatments and, at least for now, all is well.

In that time, Omid — an Iranian student who spoke with me on the condition of anonymity; his pseudonym is Farsi for “hope” — has become an exceptional engineer. A talent rains from every one of his fingers. When he was young, he gravitated toward mechanical toys, amusing himself by taking them apart and putting them back together. In high school, he hopped onto the mathematics track (the other option was biology, but he was a fan of neither biology nor blood), and of the 300,000 who took the mathematics version of the Iranian University Entrance Exam, he was one of the one percent allowed to attend a top-tier university.

For his bachelor’s thesis, he studied a niche area of fluid dynamics. He initially expected to research more traditional topics such as aerodynamics or gas pipelines, but his advisor suggested a paper on the human respiratory system instead. He was entranced; he delved deeper; and despite his earlier aversion to blood, Omid observed medical procedures so that he could emulate them with his virtual models. He pursued his masters degree at the prestigious Sharif University of Technology (where they only admit one in 135 mechanical engineering applicants) and chose for his thesis how best to filter cancer cells from blood using magnetic fields.

Then it was time for a Ph.D., “to make a substantial contribution to his field” in A&M’s argot. Despite gaining admittance to top universities around the world, he felt American universities were financially stronger and generally on the cutting edge of research.

However, there was a problem: despite his qualifications, U.S.-Iranian relations have always been (let us be delicate here) “contentious.” For the moment, there is no U.S. Embassy in Iran, meaning tenacious students must travel abroad to apply for visas. If successful, they are usually only given single-entry visas, which severely limits, if not eradicates, their ability to fly home.

Omid eventually found space here at A&M, but while carving out a living, The White House issued Presidential Proclamation 9645, a.k.a. The Travel Ban, a.k.a. The Muslim Ban — shifting names often signify shifty motives. The Supreme Court upheld the ban’s constitutionality, with Chief Justice Roberts largely ignoring the Trump Administration’s legal deviousness. Justice Kennedy — perhaps feeling self-conscious after concurring in full — reminded the President, and Americans, that even if one believes that America can do something, that doesn’t mean we should.

Omid’s mother eventually developed Myasthenia gravis — a neuromuscular disease which she keeps under control with medication — yet he has not returned home in over three years. Because of the Muslim Ban, his family has not visited him either. Still, they have hope: his mother and sisters take English classes so that if they are ever afforded the opportunity to visit, they can converse with his professors, labmates and friends.

Omid is, like everyone really, a subtle amalgamation of nature and nurture, his story a strange and unknowable concoction of plans and coincidences. Such is life. So the next time President Trump’s Muslim Ban flits across your radar, consider his story. Consider the hypocrisy of an American foreign policy which blurs the line between a government, a religion and an individual. Moreover, consider whether an anxious world can say, with any degree of confidence, that America “remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts.”

Editor’s note: In accordance with The Battalion’s policies on anonymous sources, the identity of “Omid” was verified by Battalion editors. His request for anonymity was evaluated and approved by the editor-in-chief. Readers are welcome to email editor@thebatt.com with any relevant questions or comments.

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