Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the Collegian’s interview with Waheed.
Saddam Qahtan Waheed, a doctoral candidate studying hydraulic engineering at Colorado State University, describes hearing news of the travel ban that has prevented him from continuing his degree in the U.S. as, “a bullet to the heart.”
Waheed, a student from Baghdad, Iraq, is one of three CSU students who are trapped abroad due to President Donald Trump’s executive order last week that prevented green card and visa holders from entering the U.S. if they are coming from one of seven Muslim nations. Iraq is one of those countries.
“I honestly lost my control of my body – I was just crying,” Waheed said, remembering the day he found out the news that he could not return. “I was supposed to make my family happy, but they are sad now.”
Waheed began studying at CSU in August 2014, after receiving a scholarship from the Iraqi government to study in the United States. He said he chose CSU because the hydrology engineering program is ranked as one of the best in the nation.
“When I got admitted here I was so happy,” Waheed said. “…Now, I hope that I don’t lose (my visa). It was my dream to be a CSU alumnus, a Ph.D. degree in the hydrology program, especially with my well-known professor (Jorge A. Ramirez). I’m so proud to be his student. I don’t want to lose that. I’m still fighting for it.”
Waheed decided to return to Baghdad after a major surgery – last February, a random test of Waheed’s blood revealed that he needed to remove a tumor on his parathyroid that was causing him to have dangerously high levels of calcium in his bloodstream. When he came out of the anesthesia, he planned a trip back home to see his family after being away for two years.
Waheed surprised his parents at the beginning of January with his visit.
“I saw my house gate; I could not believe that this was real,” Waheed wrote in an email to the Collegian. “I knocked the door and my father opened it… and my mother as well. They both did not know that I was going to come. It was an incredible moment… we all cried.”
He contacted a woman he had fallen in love with two years ago before coming to the U.S. and found out that she was still waiting for him in Iraq.
“I met my love again after two and a half years not seeing each other, and we decided to get married soon,” Waheed wrote. “…I never loved anybody (but) her.”
Waheed and his bride had decided to postpone their wedding until they got their visas. But, they did not know they would be waiting much longer than anticipated. A few weeks later, he said the precious moments with his family and his wife were ruined: he received news from the embassy that he was banned Friday, Jan. 27. His interview for a return visa was canceled.
“My family supports me, and especially my wife, she’s with me,” he said. “Friday night was so hard for me – it was fucking hard. … I thought I would never be able to come back to the U.S. … I think if I come back and see the university, the campus, that would be a miracle.”
Since he found out, Waheed said he has had trouble sleeping and focusing on his work. In his email, he wrote that he wished he had died instead of receiving the news.
“I felt that all my work, studying and all efforts I did perusing my degree are in vain,” he wrote. “Since that day, all my days become like dark days.”
He said that earning a Ph.D. from an American university is a dream of many around the world. Now, his dream is in jeopardy. The maximum time Waheed can be out of the university is six months: he’s spent one month with his family, as he had planned, but the executive order restriction added three more months to his trip. He will have two more months after the 90-day restriction to come back to the university, but he’s worried.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen after 90 days – if there will be more restrictions,” he said. “Nobody knows.”
Waheed heard about the executive orders in the news a few days prior, but he said he did not think he would be part of the ban since he was a student and vetted by his government. While he believes the U.S. will reconsider his situation, he said each day feels like a year while he waits.
“I have no idea if they realize (the impact the order is having) or not, but I think if they hear it, they will change the situation,” Waheed said. “…I’m an engineer. I don’t want to talk about political issues, but if they want to ban refugees and immigrants, it’s up to them. … I mean it’s your country. You want to do whatever you think is right, but students are something different.”
He said he was grateful for the help he has received from his contacts at CSU, and that he appreciates the support.
“I saw on Facebook that there was marching yesterday. I really appreciate them,” he said about the Muslim and immigrant solidarity protest in Fort Collins Tuesday. “I got a couple of calls from friends at supporting me. … I hope that these messages are going to reach President Trump and all his staff, and I hope they will change their decision.”
As for the other two CSU students trapped abroad, one named Hanan Isweiri who has a baby with her, and another still unidentified, Waheed had a message for them:
“We are Muslims. We are believers. We believe in God. This is the time to tell the U.S. and President Trump that we are not violent and we are not terrorists. Our countries are affected by the terrorism.”
Waheed says he is counting down the days until the ban is lifted, and while he still has a little hope, he’s worried that his wife may not be able to return with him.
“I don’t want to come alone. … I want to bring her to the U.S. and let her see the beautiful country and the beautiful people there,” he said. “… People are great in the U.S., especially in Fort Collins. It’s like part of heaven, Fort Collins.”
Are you, or is someone you know, affected by the travel ban? Tell the Collegian your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saddam Waheed, a doctoral candidate studying civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State University, describes hearing news of the travel ban to the U.S. as “a bullet to the heart.”
In an email to the Collegian, Waheed, an international student from Baghdad, Iraq, described how coming to study in the U.S. on a scholarship affected his life.
He said that earning a Ph.D. from an American university is a dream of many around the world.
After being away from home for two years, Waheed planned a trip back to Baghdad for January 2017 to see his family.
“I saw my house gate; I could not believe that this was real,” Waheed wrote. “I knocked the door and my father opened it… and my mother as well. They both did not know that I was going to come. It was an incredible moment… we all cried.”
He was scheduled to interview for his return visa on Jan. 30., but received news of the order Friday evening.
“There was one of the worst ever news that I have ever heard, all Iraqis are banned to enter US due to the executive order the president Trump … it was like bullet in my heart,” Waheed wrote. “I did not believe what I was reading … I lost my control for my body and started crying for hours.
“My parents got so sad where I was trying to make them happy and proud of me. I hoped that I got died instead of this new. I felt that all my work, studying and all efforts I did perusing my degree are in vain! Since that day, all my days become like dark days. I am not regretting coming back home, but I hope that this issue will be solved soon and my wife and I will be able to come back to the us again,” he wrote.
He said he was grateful for the help he has received from his contacts at CSU.