Refugee Stories

Trump’s Other Wall | Two Years After the Travel Ban

“How have you been sleeping?” we ask new mom, Maryam* as she beckons us into the back bedroom. Her in-laws, visiting from Iran, are sitting in the living room with Maryam’s husband. Their 3-year-old son, Ahmad (who happens to know perfect English) is playing on the floor with an assortment of plastic animal figurines. The low hum from the T.V. plays traditional Persian music.

“Fine, fine”, she says, a surprisingly positive response coming from someone who has just given birth. We tiptoe to a bedside bassinet and peek in over the blankets to see her son, Yosef, sleeping peacefully. In hushed voices, we coo over the sweet newborn.

Two weeks earlier at a local hospital here in Turkey, Yosef was born with a cleft palate. Unable to be properly breastfed, he needs a specialized bottle and specific formula to receive the nutrients he needs to thrive.

Returning back to the living room and our half-finished cups of tea, the conversation has now turned to the inevitable surgery Yosef will have to undergo and the logistics of lining up transportation to get the hospital, a translator who speaks Turkish and Farsi, taking time off of work, and payment.

They then told us of Maryan’s brother-in-law, living and working in Seattle who has been working tirelessly to reunite his family. Exasperated, Maryam’s husband leans forward and asks, “Isn’t there something you can do to get us to the U.S.?”


With an uptick in oppression towards religious and ethnic minorities, Reza fled Iran with his wife and children to Turkey where they applied and were accepted as refugees.

Unable to work legally in Turkey, Reza’s family scraped by on unstable, under-the-table work in construction and hairdressing, working long hours with unfair wages while they waited for their immigration processes to move forward.

Reza’s process was an urgent one, with a blood vessel near his heart threatening to burst. He was promised a life-saving operation by doctors once he arrived in the United States.

After years of extensive interviews, submitting background checks, job records, and undergoing medical examinations, Reza’s family was finally able to go to the U.S. Ecstatic and with plane tickets in hand, they sold all their belongings and packed what they could into suitcases, dreaming of what life would be like once out of Turkey.

But then a new president was elected in the U.S. and their flight was canceled. 

Then rescheduled.

Then canceled.

And rescheduled and canceled again.

After 15 months of being at the mercy of out-of-touch politicians, and feeling like pawns on a board game, Reza collapsed on his apartment balcony here in Turkey. His blood vessel had finally burst. He died of a heart attack at age 54, leaving behind his wife and two sons.


As America looks to the south of the border and to the building of the wall, there is still another invisible wall that has been in place since the beginning of 2017. 

Two years ago today Trump unveiled a travel ban that would bar people from seven countries from coming into the United States for 90 days, then 120 days, and now indefinitely.

It’s where my family and I find ourselves today. Spread out across several countries, divided, and with no end in sight.

Two years ago today as my then fiance and I sat in a coffee shop dreaming of our wedding and our life in America, we first read the headlines of the travel ban, which would drastically change the course of our lives. We glued ourselves to the screen, watching news clips of the mass chaos this order unlocked.

It was a “better safe than sorry” policy carelessly put into place and came with an enormous human cost. People are separated from loved ones, spouses, fiances, sons, daughters, and parents. They are divided – dying, even – while stuck in bureaucratic limbo. 

My sister cannot make plans to marry her fiance, even though he is a citizen of a European country. They are stopped only because of the place of birth listed on his passport.

My mother-in-law is separated from her two sons, unable to visit them. She has missed weddings and births as she waits in limbo.

My husband cannot think about or plan for the future. He is told by immigration officials to “wait, just wait”. And so he does for two years and counting.


And now America looks from the southern border to the east coast as all eyes are on the state of New York, which passed a law permitting late-term abortions.

As I wade through all of the different discussions happening, feeling heartbroken and heavy, confused at what is factual, angry at what is celebrated as an expansion of rights, I cannot help but palpably feel the disconnect of the Church.

Oh Church, why are we so quick to slap a “pro-life” frame across our profile picture when just last week we were sharing memes and links that personify immigrants as wild animals, Middle Easterners as terrorists, and the poor as lazy – using language that erases the humanity, the life, of those who are vulnerable?

It is disconcerting to see the Chruch applauding President Trump’s anti-abortion statement when he demeans the lives of immigrants and bans millions of people from entering the country solely because of the passport they carry and the color of their skin.

Why do we find it easier to be silent on most human rights issues except for this one?

We cannot let abortion become a standalone issue that disconnects us from so many other human rights issues.

The travel ban is a pro-life issue. 

I pray that, far beyond defining ourselves as “pro-life”, we live out Christ’s heart: aligning ourselves with the oppressed and the vulnerable, loving our neighbors (not just those who have the same citizenship as us), caring for the poor, having compassion for refugees, seeing the humanity in immigrants, and working to reunite families.

A travel ban that cannot tell the difference between a terrorist and a victim is heartless, anti-family, and anti-life. We cannot support it.

While it seems like every day there is something new to be (oftentimes, rightly) outraged over, please remember that there are millions of people still greatly affected by this ban. 

Each day, week, month, year that goes by where we do not talk about the injustice of the travel ban, is another day that it is a victory for those who support it.

The travel ban is affecting real, innocent people. 

It is time to end the cruelty of the separation of families and loved ones. It is time to support all life.

Two years is too long.

*All names have been changed.

Our Story

Plants, Bans, and Faith in the Dark

January 27th, 2017

This date became forever marked as a time when lightness and enjoyment became harshly juxtaposed next to uncertainty and insecurity.  It was the opening scene for the following 12 months of feeling both joy and sorrow.

We reached our highly sought after destination, finally. One bus ride to a nearby town. One longer bus ride to a larger city. One bumpy, rickety city shuttle to the larger city’s center. 10 minutes of walking on the uneven pavement by a row of smelly fish stalls with shouting men. Then we arrived to paradise in liquid form. The place where my taste buds had only dreamed of going.

Starbucks.

Okay, okay, okay. Understand me for a minute. When you’re an expat and you live an hour away from any good coffee shops, Starbucks just feels like heaven on earth. The clouds part, the angels sing, and that smooth jazz plays over the speakers as you taste that first caramel macchiato you’ve had in months.

We continued to chat and sip on our overpriced, caffeinated drinks, enjoying this new season we were in and the new glint of sparkle on my left hand. Like the products of our generation that we are, we scrolled on our phones, reading out loud statuses posted by friends and turning our screens towards each other to share funny pictures.

But then he stopped. His eyes fixated on his screen. His brow furrowed. I waited for him to share as his phone vibrated with notifications.

There’s a travel ban. And I think it includes me.”

Are you sure? Does it affect refugees? Can he even do that? How long will it last?
A flurry of questions with answers only slowly becoming clear in the following days.
Yes. Yes. Maybe. 3 months, but probably longer.

What I Speak to You in the Dark

If you’ve read any of my past blog posts you’ll know that this season is a dark season for us. It’s a difficult place to be, in the dark. It feels that any hope we so much as slightly touch crumbles before our very eyes. Last week the latest travel ban was lifted, praise God, and the refugee immigration process started up again. Just this morning, however, we learned of a new immigration policy proposed that could set the immigration process back another six months.

An unmistakable heaviness breathes over our apartment as we rise to make the bed and our morning coffee. Up and down, up and down. Hope then disappointment. Rinse and repeat.

We have spent so much time in the darkness screaming out to God, “If you really loved us, you would open the door for us!” We’ve spent so much time shaking our fists, begging, and crying out to the One who is good and in control. He is in control…right? Yes. Yes, He is. He is good and He is in control.

Oswald Chambers certainly doesn’t mince words on this topic when he writes, “Pay attention when God puts you into darkness, and keep your mouth closed while you are there” (if he were around today, he’d probably say “just shut up and listen for a second”).

In the midst of my screaming and crying, I’ve felt a small tug on my heart to be still. God is speaking, if only I’d stop for a moment. The more still I am at the foot of the cross, I’ve felt less and less like I should pray for deliverance from our situation. Here’s the thing though: my circumstances haven’t changed. We’re here. No phone call has come. No plane tickets have been issued. We are so disappointed. Yet feeling disappointed means we are still trying. We didn’t surrender. We still care. And I know God’s beauty is somewhere in the darkness, even if my eyes are closed to it yet. I know that it will shine brighter than the night time we are in. I know He is weaving a beautiful story here, even if we can’t see it yet. He is teaching us to be faithful in the dark. But it is still such a hard place to be.

The One About Plants

One of our first big marital conflicts was about, well, plants. Houseplants, specifically. But, of course, as these things go, the argument about plants wasn’t really about plants.

One of us wanted to purchase indoor plants to cozy up our first apartment together in Turkey, to make a short-term, one-bedroom feel more like a home. The other saw it as superfluous. It took a lot of conversations (okay, fights) to understand why.

To buy something as unnecessary as a potted plant was to admit defeat. Filling our apartment with things that weren’t needed was to accept that we were staying here. It was a symbol of us giving up getting to the US. We are here in Turkey, and this is now our home.

Plants = permanence, permanence in a place we did not want to be permanent.

To buy houseplants or picture frames or throw pillows, for that matter, was a signal of a white flag. Our hands are raised. We surrender. We give up.

To avoid being extra cheesy, I’ll skip over the whole ~bloom where you are planted~ spiel. However, I do think there is something to this symbolism of plants in our marriage. Oftentimes, when I am finally quiet before the Lord, I can hear that still small whisper telling me that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. It’s an uncomfortable, tension-filled thing to hear. It’s actually the exact opposite of what I want to hear. It doesn’t make sense right now, but I trust that it will.

January 27th, 2018

Flash forward a year later and we are still here.

The last 365 days brought on a flurry of pieced-together wedding plans, a white dress that was meant to be worn in America shipped across the ocean, wedding day dreams slightly remodeled and expedited to fit into the new reality of staying in Turkey for much longer than anticipated. We endeavored into our newly married life by enduring travel ban after travel ban (three, to be exact), courts blocking, and judges denying, for one year. 

But God touched our hearts with the realization that that white flag was placing too much power in places that don’t deserve power. Power in news announcements. Power in bizarre and arbitrary immigration policies. Power in the President. One look at the headlines would reduce me to tears.

He is challenging me to, just be still.  To be still when my gut reaction as I’m drowning is to grab onto anything that will keep my head above the water? To be still when my impulse is to call an immigration lawyer, change our apartment, write emails, make phone calls, etc. etc.?

All of those headlines and awful comments from heartless people? They are nothing compared to the mighty and powerful God who loves us and works all things together for good. A loose cannon president? Ever changing policies? Absolutely nothing is too hard for God.

Yes, we are in the dark. It’s a hard place to be. But God is speaking. He is moving pieces around that will one day fit all together. We need only to be still and listen. God, help us to do that.

In Him,
Sarah