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A Love That Stretches Beyond Trump's Travel Ban


Before then-presidential candidate Donald Trump vowed, quote, "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the United States, before the travel ban led to nationwide airport protests, before the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a watered-down version of the ban, Brian and Mehraneh fell in love. And Matt Katz of member station WNYC has their love story.

MATT KATZ, BYLINE: In 2015, Brian Swank was a student at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. That's when he first laid eyes on Mehraneh, a Ph.D. in landscape architecture who was working with one of his professors.

BRIAN SWANK: There was this beautiful girl coming from - all the way from Iran to study, you know, landscape architecture here. I never knew anybody from Iran, never, you know, really thought twice about it.

KATZ: Mehraneh Rayatidamavandi was on a research scholar visa for the academic year. Soon enough, Brian asked her out - coffee.

MEHRANEH RAYATIDAMAVANDI: From the first moment, I thought that he's so sweet, he's so caring, so thoughtful. And we are good together

SWANK: And we just chatted for hours and hours. And that day, I remember thinking to myself, wow, this girl is going to be somebody special in my life.

KATZ: On Halloween, he taught her how to carve a pumpkin. On Thanksgiving, she met the parents. And by the spring, on the steps of his parents' home in Poughkeepsie, Brian proposed.

SWANK: I knew I loved her more than anything and, you know, I just knew this is the girl for me.

KATZ: Mehraneh’s visa required her to go back to Iran for two years and then apply for a fiancee visa. That would then make her eligible for permanent residency for work, for a life in the U.S. So the couple did their two years apart, meeting up for several vacations around the world.

RAYATIDAMAVANDI: We have a lot of fun together, but it's always in my mind that, oh, in 12 days, in 14 days, in 10 days, finally we have to leave each other again.

KATZ: As they took these bittersweet vacations, President Trump fought for his travel ban in the courts, saying it was needed for national security. And last year, the Supreme Court gave the green light to the latest version of the ban on travelers from seven countries, five of which are mostly Muslim, including Iran. The decision came just weeks before Mehraneh’s long-awaited interview with a U.S. consular officer, who denied her fiancee visa.

RAYATIDAMAVANDI: Since that moment until today, I'm a lost girl. I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go I don't know what to think. I stopped dreaming about my future.

SWANK: Life is on hold it seems. We've got these big dreams, these big plans of having, you know, having a home, having - you know, starting a family together. I'm just waiting for the most important thing - her - her to be here.

KATZ: They're seeking a waiver from the travel ban. It's an appeals process that was mandated by the Supreme Court ruling, but only 6% of nearly 38,000 visa applicants have won a waiver. Brian and Mehraneh’s request is still pending. And while legal challenges to the ban are ongoing, they could take years.

RAYATIDAMAVANDI: I am an ordinary Iranian citizen. I don't have anything to do with politics. It's not my fault that I was born in Iran.

KATZ: For now, Brian's on the Jersey Shore working as a landscape architect. He facetimes or talks on the phone with Mehraneh before work. And when he gets home, she wakes up at 2:30 in the morning her time to hear about his day. Still, it's not the same.

SWANK: I come home every night. I'm alone. And I go to bed every night. I'm alone.

KATZ: Mehraneh doesn't work. She spends her time reading articles on landscape architecture and the travel ban.

RAYATIDAMAVANDI: I'm saying this to Brian every day that this is love. This is - love doesn't know any boundaries, so it doesn't know any nationality, anything. It just happens. You fall in love. You cannot do anything about it.

KATZ: All you can do is wait. For NPR News, I'm Matt Katz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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