Music student with asylum fears leaving country to perform, visit family after travel ban

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CHICAGO --  You’ve heard a lot this week about President Trump’s executive order and how it affected some travelers heading to the United States. What you likely haven’t heard is how it can impact people who are already here.

Mariela Shaker is a DePaul University masters student from Syria.  She received asylum in the United States but she worries if she travels overseas, she may not be allowed to return to America.

Mariela is from Aleppo, a city that’s been on the front lines of a civil war and now an ISIS insurgency.

“I was one of the people whom their dreams were eventually vanished and demolished into war.  I was so desperate to find my future and have a second chance in life,” she says.

Three years ago she was invited to fill out an online application to study music in Illinois.

“We did not have electricity or water so I had to run under rockets and bombs falling to an internet café because they had generators for electricity. I worked so hard to secure  my scholarship in the U.S.”

Shaker was granted asylum and now holds a green card. It’s been her passport to perform at the Kennedy Center in New York and around the world at United Nations events shining a spotlight on Syria.

But not anymore.

“I fear very much now to leave the United States,” she says.  “Maybe I will not be allowed to come back, especially now just 4 to 5 months to graduate from DePaul.  So I would really fear to leave the country.”

DePaul, like other universities, is advising students from countries named in President Trump’s executive order not to leave the U.S. until there’s more certainty on whether they’d be allowed back.

It’s not just Mariela’s musical trips that are on hold , but also plans to see family.  In the past they’ve met in Beirut.  Now she won’t risk going.

“I try to call them every day on their landline just to make sure they are still alive, still doing okay.  They tell me very hard, very sad stories.”

Her fiancé left Syria at the age of 15 and has lived in London ever since. He applied for a visa to visit the U.S. but ran into trouble when the process was abruptly stopped Saturday.

“They just sent an email saying the interview was cancelled because of the executive order.  That was it.  So we are not able now to be together.”

The consequences of a presidential directive meant to keep the country safe is also impacting people who are already here.

As Mariela says, “Banning all these people from all seven countries, I find it very difficult to understand or believe. A lot of innocent people here have been affected by this executive order, including me.”

After nearly a week of claiming it wouldn’t change the executive order, on Wednesday the White House indicated it may ease restrictions on green card holders like Mariela.  The ban on visitors and immigrants from Syria and the six other Muslim nations covered under the president’s order is expected to last at least 90 days.


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