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U.S. Travel Ban Stands Between Iranian Cancer Patient And Her Grandmother

Kiana Ghanei protests at Philadelphia's airport on January 28, the day her grandmother was supposed to arrive from Iran.

These are trying times for Negin Ghanei and her family.

Doctors in the United States last year detected a return of her teenage daughter Kiana's lymphoma cancer, leaving the transplanted Iranians in what the U.S.-based chemical engineer calls a state of shock.

Ghanei says the second shock came in late January when she learned that Kiana's 74-year-old grandmother couldn't travel to the United States to help care for Kiana and provide them all with much-needed moral support.

Ghanei had asked her mother to join them in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to spend time with Kiana, who must look after herself on days when both parents are at work and her 20-year-old sister, Kimia, is at university.

"It's not good for Kiana to be alone," Ghanei says, "Her temperature has to be monitored and, most importantly, psychologically."

Kiana's grandmother got a U.S. entry visa from the U.S. Embassy in Dubai quickly and without complications. She was due to depart for Philadelphia on January 28.

But hours before she was to board her flight from Tehran, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order, with immediate effect, barring all foreign nationals from Iran and six other mostly Muslim states from entering the United States for at least 90 days.

"We were shocked," Ghanei says of the travel ban. "They've taken our right away; it's our right, but someone powerful says no."

'Everyone Is An Immigrant'

The Trump administration presented the order as a way of "protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States" and made the ban applicable to citizens of seven countries identified as countries "of concern" by the Obama administration: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Iran has been identified as a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department since 1984.

But Ghanei says it is hard for her to understand the travel ban since "everyone is an immigrant in this country."

She was initially hopeful but her optimism waned as reports suggested that the new measures were imminent.

"Everyone was telling me that [my mother] may not be able to come, but I wouldn't believe them," she says. "I thought in the worst-case scenario I'll show [U.S. authorities] the letter from the hospital [stating that my daughter has cancer] and they will let my mother enter the country."

But Kiana's grandmother was not allowed to board her Qatar Airways flight in Tehran.

Protesting Travel Ban

Ghanei says her sick daughter was especially hard-hit by the news. "Kiana is awaiting a stem-cell transplant," she says. "It's difficult and she knows it, she's now undergoing chemotherapy."

She says a visit from her grandmother was "Kiana's only hope" in these tough times, adding that her daughter remains very attached to her relatives in Iran.

"She kept crying every day -- you know, she's morally weak now -- and no matter what we say, she says she wants her grandmother."

On January 29, the day her grandmother was due to arrive in the United States, Kiana asked her mother to take her to Philadelphia's international airport to participate in a protest against the travel restrictions.

She prepared her protest sign herself. "I'm battling cancer and my grandmother was supposed to arrive from Iran today," her hand-written sign said.

NBC reported that several thousand protesters took part in the rally in an effort to send a message that immigrants are welcome in the United States.

Trump's executive order halted the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days, indefinitely banned Syrian refugees, and suspended all immigration from seven countries for 90 days.

The U.S. president defended the ban via Twitter on February 1, saying that the order was aimed at "keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of the country."

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.