President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have shaken up the science world. Since his inauguration, Trump has begun to dismantle environmental measures instated by former President Barack Obama; submitted a fiscal year 2018 budget proposal that severely slashes the budgets of NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other scientific agencies; and twice attempted to temporarily ban immigrants—including scientists—from several countries from entering the United States.
Trump’s first immigration-related executive order (EO), signed 25 January, implemented a 90-day ban against immigrants traveling from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. As news of the so-called “immigration ban” spread, scientists around world spoke out, arguing that international collaboration was key to good science. The order was quickly blocked by U.S. federal courts. Trump attempted to push through a “revised” immigration ban in March, but federal courts blocked that as well.
When the first EO was signed, Eos spoke with several affected scientists from around the world. Solmaz Adeli, an Iranian postdoctoral researcher at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, Germany, told Eos that when the EO was announced, her interview at the U.S. embassy to acquire a travel visa to the United States was canceled. Adeli, a planetary geologist, was hoping to attend the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Texas, but she was fearful that she would not be able to enter the United States.
Fortunately, Adeli did attend LPSC. Eos sat down with her at the meeting and later followed up by email to discuss her experiences in the immediate aftermath of the EO and during the tense days that followed. Her responses have been edited for clarity.
Eos: What were you thinking when the executive order was first signed?
Adeli: I was shocked, of course, like most of the people from the countries concerned and those who value peace and freedom in this world. I felt strongly for my friends who live in the United States, who wanted their relatives to visit them there. I thought about all the Iranian students who had been granted a place at a university in the U.S., who simply had to forget all their efforts to make this opportunity possible, and had to start over planning their future.
Eos: What happened in the days and weeks following?
Adeli: I was affected by the EO because I wanted to attend LPSC and had already booked an interview appointment at the U.S. embassy in Berlin. The appointment was canceled a few days after the EO was signed. For me, the EO meant that I would not be given a visa. I felt discriminated against. Getting a visa for the U.S. is quite a challenge for me, as I have to apply for a new one each time that I want to attend a conference or a meeting. Therefore, I try to choose wisely which conference to attend, and I usually do not travel more than once a year across the Atlantic Ocean.
Eos: Did any of your other colleagues at LPSC have a similar experience?
Adeli: A U.S.-based Iranian postdoctoral researcher, who as well attended LPSC, told me that he would not attend any European conferences anymore because he was afraid of not being able to go back to the U.S., where he lives and works, [all] of the sudden.
Eos: What kind of reactions did you see at home and around the world? What did you think of them?
Adeli: I was amazed by the reaction of people around the world, and particularly the Americans; those people protesting in the airports, those lawyers sitting on the ground with their laptop on their lap, and those journalists writing articles and tweeting to raise awareness. The Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany issued an official statement on 7 February with the title “Science Is International,” where they expressed their concern about the EO and its impacts on science. That statement was heartwarming for the expatriate young scientist living in Germany that I am.
Eos: Why did you want to come to LPSC?
Adeli: Attending an international conference means contributing to science and in science. International exchange is one of the most important matters. I can’t be a good scientist without being able to attend one of the largest and most attended conferences in my field of study.
Most collaborations are triggered in such conferences; new ideas are born from these collaborations, which could potentially end up being a new mission discovering new frontiers. By not attending the U.S.-based events, I would miss out on half of the planetary science scene.
Eos: When did you find out you were going to be able to come to LPSC? What did you think and feel?
Adeli: A few days after the first EO was halted by a federal judge, I was able again to take an interview appointment at the U.S. embassy in Berlin. My interview was a few days later, and during this time, before the interview day, I was expecting at any moment to receive a new email stating that my appointment had been canceled. It did not happen. I was interviewed on the due day and was issued a visa right away.
I felt grateful to those judges, those lawyers, and all those people who took part in this movement, and who cared. I then thought about this well-known poem of the Persian poet Sa’adi, which is also written in the halls of the United Nations, and reads as
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
—JoAnna Wendel (@JoAnnaScience), Staff Writer