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Tech Workers Explain How Trump’s Travel Ban Has Turned Their Lives Upside Down

A new project from photographer Helena Price explores what it’s like to be banned.

Left to right: Omid, a former Googler now in grad school at Stanford; Ruthia, a product designer at Facebook; and Farid, a brand designer at Zendesk.

 

On January 26, they were normal people with jobs. On January 27, the day President Trump signed an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, they became something else. "Degraded as a second-class person," in the words of Omid, a Stanford grad student. "A prisoner in the United States," says Farid, a brand designer at Zendesk. "Unwanted, undesired, and unwelcome," says Tarik, a UX researcher at Google. 

Their words and photos are part of "Banned," a new oral history project from photographer Helena Price. Price is also the creator of the powerful "Pussy Project," which documented women's reactions to Donald Trump during the election. For Price, "Banned" is about revealing just how regular the people Trump is targeting are. "These are completely normal people that are working next to us in our offices," she says. "They're trying to be normal people and do their jobs like us, but they can't. Maybe they won't see their families again. Maybe they'll be separated from their wives and children—they're dealing with issues that a lot of us will never even have to think about." 

Omid, an Iranian citizen who has a green card, describes waking up in the post–travel ban world this way:

The way I felt was very humiliated, to be honest. Suddenly I felt degraded as a second-class person in this country. You need to know traveling for me is absolutely essential to my identity and my self-understanding. Having that being taken away from you and then really being imprisoned suddenly from one day to the next, knowing you cannot leave and return safely to this country which you call your home, that took some time to digest. It took me a few days.

Trump's original ban has since been blocked by the courts, but his administration is working on a new executive order, which might be issued as soon as Tuesday. Green card holders like Omid will reportedly be exempted. But even the U.S. citizens and legal residents among Price's subjects face serious obstacles: the likelihood of invasive searches by U.S. Customs if they leave and return, for instance, or close family who can't visit or whose applications for legal residency could be stalled or blocked.

Price created "Banned" to push back against the idea that Trump's immigration policies aren't harmful. "Even in this town, I see people who are like, 'It's no big deal. Nothing's actually happening." That's an attitude Price hears echoed by red-staters. "I grew up surrounded by the people who are now, like, 'It's just affecting the illegal and criminals,'" says the photographer, who is from New Bern, North Carolina. "I don't think that debating generalizations with those people is effective. What does seem to be effective is exposing people to stories from normal people that might be different from them in some ways and not that different from them in other ways. Then those bridges for empathy to start to develop."

 

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