Just before going to work on a sunny Friday morning in March, Khan Pham, a 24-year-old native of Vietnam looked outside her living room window onto the street below.
“I love my neighborhood,” said Pham about her Hamilton Heights home at 141st street, a classic New York City pre-war building nestled in this bustling neighborhood. “Diversity is what makes this part of the city so vibrant. The rent is affordable and the food is amazing. It’s still a predominately Hispanic and African American neighborhood. I can’t imagine the negative impact a vast reduction in visas would have on this area of the city.”
In the aftermath of the various executive orders restricting immigration and statements from President Donald Trump denigrating visa programs such as the H-1B visa used by foreign workers, young international students like Pham, are rethinking their place in American.
Pham first moved to the city seven years ago to study and received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and master’s in Public Policy from Baruch College. She currently works for the NGO, Amani Global Works, as a program and development intern. When Pham first moved to the U.S her plan was to find a way to work in the country, but now she is not that sure.
“Being international, I suddenly feel somehow less welcomed here,” said Khan. “I am honestly not sure I want to stay here and my partner and I are thinking about moving to another country together if things worsen under Trump’s presidency.”
Other young adults from abroad echoed Pham’s sentiments. Betty Lo, a 22-year-old recent college graduate from Taiwan is currently applying for the H-1B visa, an employment based visa for temporary workers. She is unsure of how Trump presidency will affect her status.
“Trump and his cabinet are in the process of reforming work visas,” said Lo. “It has me worried because I am in the process of applying for a work visa. So I’m pretty certain things will get even more complicated than it already is.”
There are 85,000 visas given each year and currently 900,000 visa holders in the United States. Where Trump stands on the H-1B is difficult to determine. Back in October 2015, Trump said he was in favor of people coming into this country legally, but in March 2016, his campaign released a statement saying that the H-1B program was “neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers…for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”
The H-1B is one of the most common visa programs for foreign workers in the United States.
Nadeem Omar Shad a 23-year-old student at Columbia University, originally from the U.K. is discouraged.
“Once I get my degree, I will go back to the UK,” Shad said. “Trump has had a chilling effect on students’ from the UK in the sense that people feel discouraged to stay here and pursue an OPT, because they think employers will be less likely to hire them. But a lot of students say that after studying here for five, six years, they fee lbetter here than in their country of origin so it’s not a great situation to be in for a lot of us.”
According to the nonprofit Institute of International Education, about 1,043,839, international students were enrolled in U.S. universities in the 2015-2016 school year. The same year, 147,498 were doing Optional Practical Training (OPT), a visa that permits international student to stay and work in the country momentarily.
International students account for about 5 percent of all U.S. college students, and, as a group, contributed nearly $32.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015-2016, according to NAFSA.
“International students pay tuition, room and board to the university and sometimes rent local apartments/houses in the community,” said Jason Wynn the Assistant Director of International Student and Scholar Services at Georgia College and State University who has throughout the years helped and facilitated international students’ immigration and cultural acclimation needs. “This revenue is money that the local economy otherwise wouldn’t have.”
What worries students like Pham is the uncertainty behind Trump’s language.
“Trump specifically stated that changes are coming for H-1B visa,” said Pham. “Knowing his sentiments about foreigners, I don’t think he will make it easier for us to stay and work in the country. Most people don’t realize that international students not only stay because they have job opportunities here but also they create a new life in the country. They form relationships, grow to love certain places, learn the culture.”
Keith Claxton has been attending the race for the five years in a row. A person he met on the sideline gave him the sign, but Claxton cheers for everybody.” – Photo by Lisa Setyon
For the fifth year in a row, Keith Claxton, 53, of Eastchester Road in the Bronx, stood near the Willis Avenue Bridge encouraging the runners soaked in sweat to finish the race.
“I love the sport and I think it is something awesome that people run 26.2 miles,” Claxton said. “I just come to show my support for them. It is the least I can do.”
Today , 21 miles away from the finish line, Claxton, an accountant originally from the Virgin Islands, was among the thousands of spectators, waving, cheering and pushing the runners to get through the Bronx. Every year Claxton arrives at 8 a.m. and stands by himself, in a red track jacket, grey sweatpants and Nike sneakers.
While most of the other spectators are in groups and at the bridge to support a friend or family member, Claxton is there to support everyone.
“I cheer the last person to come across so I’m going to be here until the night,” Claxton said. “It just gives me a good feeling to be here, to be able to cheer them on, because, if they can run 26.2 miles, what is it for me to just turn up here and cheer?”
Claxton has lived in the Bronx for the past 25 years. For him, having the marathon in his neighborhood is also a way to add color to an area that has often been discredited.
“It gives people an opportunity to see a little part of the Bronx,” Claxton said. “I wish they could have gone more inside the Bronx so they get a better understanding of what the Bronx is.”
Claxton also sees it as a good way to gather communities together.
“Young, old, black, white, all nationalities are here,” Claxton said. “A sport like this bring everyone together. It just supports one cause, no division, just a marathon.”
Ten years ago Claxton used to run. But with a new job and taking care of his two children, Claxton stopped. But as he watched runners run past him, Claxton was envious and felt it was time for him to run again.
“I got caught up with just life,” Claxton said. “Sometimes you tend to put your hobbies on hold just to make a living. Now my two boys are 29 and 22. I feel like it is just time for me to go back out there and do me.”
His goal for next year is to run the marathon.
“My part right now is just to cheer,” he said “Hopefully next year, I’ll be running and I’ll have someone to cheer for me so I’m excited about it.”
If Claxton was looking forward to attending the marathon, the highlight of his day was seeing marathon winner May’s Keitany’s performance.
“She was sprinting and killed the hill in a sprint,” Claxton said. “I almost didn’t even see her, nobody was nowhere close, she really dominated the field this year. This a repeat for her, the third times she wins that in a row, it’s a big deal.”
A protester wears a mask representing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the protest outside the United Nations headquarters. Photo by Lisa Setyon
Thirty years ago, Saïd Rabie escaped the radical Islamist government of Iran. But he lost his sister, brother and many close friends he left behind. He said he is angry and can’t heal, haunted by their deaths and the sufferings his family and country has had to endure.
“In October 2009, my sister was in a camp, they shot 80 missiles to the camp, she and 23 of my friends got killed,” said Rabie, 47, of Las Vegas, Nevada. “Then my brother was put in jail for four years and then killed and my dad had a heart attack because of the torture and the pressure on all of these people.”
Yesterday morning thousands of people including Rabie, gathered on the Dag Hammerskjold Plaza across the street from the United Nations, to express their outrage with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who was speaking at the United Nations.
Rouhani, who is up for reelection, wants to stop the United States from blocking their bank transactions, which prevents Iran from doing financial transactions with other countries. He needs the UN to put pressure on the Obama administration. Since the United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations,
Rouhani also signed the controversial nuclear deal with Iraq, that has fueled his enemies desire to remove him from office.
But the thousands of protesters did not want Rouhani, who they see as a ruthless dictator, to address the UN General Assembly.
“He shouldn’t be allowed in the UN,” said, Armahd Babaie, 58, of San Francisco, California. “He is the representative of a government, that has been sponsoring terrorism. I started my life here in 1976, I raised my family here. but I have always been a supporter of the resistance. So I am here today to make sure that everybody gets freedom, that the world comes together and fights against terrorism. They are the DNA of ISIS.”
The protest, which was organized by the Organization of Iranian American Communities, had protestors from all over the world, who traveled to New York City in order to denounce the lack of human rights under President Rouhani. With a population of more than 77 million, Iran still has one of the highest rate of executions in the world along with Saudi Arabia and China.
“They got killed because they don’t want to follow the government,” Rabie said. “Christians for example, they are going to force them to become Muslims or they will be captured and put in jail.”
This was the case of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American Christian pastor who was put in jail in 2012 because of his faith.
“When I was in Rajaeeshar prison, every Wednesday, at 3 a.m., they took people for executions,” Abedini said to the protestors. “Last month, thousands got executed and killed for nothing, so we are here for the people that don’t have any voice.”
Halfway through the protest, a performance embodying the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in Iran was performed. It was followed by a speech by Sir Geoffrey Robertson, President of the United Nations Court for War Crimes in Sierra Leone.
“We call upon United Nations and its general assembly to reserve a seat for Iran that does not represent close religion, that does not represent inequality for women but represents freedom and justice for all Iranians, Roberstson said. “When we stand against injustice for black people in America, we are proud of a motto that says Black Lives Matter, but today, I submit to you that Iran Lives Matter.”
The protesters wore leather jackets in honor of the victims and chanted “No to Rouhani, Yes to Human Rights.”
“I moved to America in 1977 right before the revolution,” Nada Nazabi, of Flint, Michigan said. “Look at my country now, look what’s going on in all Arab countries, look what’s going on with Saudi Arabia. Iran is the main problem all over the Middle East, that’s why we want him gone, we want the regime to change in Iran.”
Sheirill Fliley, 66, of Flint, Michigan was among the passionate participants. For Fliley, it was essential to look at her own journey to reach freedom.
“All my life, I fought for freedom” Fliley said. “As an African American in the South, growing up with a lot of prejudice, with a family working in the cotton fields and not being able to go to school until I was 14, we had to fight to make our voices heard. So I am here because I believe in freedom.”
According to the United States Department of State, the Iranian regime is still seen as the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism and the main cause of carnage in Syria, which has recently been described as the stepping stone for extremist violence.
Amnesty International has reported that the Iranian government does not allow freedom of expression and anyone who advocates for human rights can be imprisoned, not given a fair trial, tortured and even killed.
For these reasons, many protesters remained unclear as to why the United Nations invited Rouhani to speak.
“If you know that his government supports terrorism, why do you invite them to come here?” Rabie said. “What is the policy of the United States? Sit with the terrorists and negotiate with them? I am shocked when I see that they are releasing billions of dollars for the nuclear deal. You think they would give the money to Iranian people? No. Iranian people, they get poorer and poorer every day.”
Flickr Creative Commons 9/11 photo
Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, which was led by Islamic terrorists, the city’s Muslim community continues to deal with discrimination and hatred.
“I’ve been “jokingly” called a terrorist,” Tahseen Rabbi, a video producer from Briarwood, Queens said.
With nearly one million Muslims, New York is reportedly among the states with the highest Muslim population. Despite the city’s high Muslim population, Rabbi, a lively and bubbly Bangladeshi woman who describes herself as a “very liberal Muslim”, and many others have failed to escape the shadow of the 9/11 attacks.
“Ever since 9/11, there has been a stigma attached to the religion,” Shadman Ahmed, 21, a senior at Saint John’s University in Fresh Meadows, Queens said. “Muslims are now automatically associated with a lot of negativity.”
The presidential election has only bought more scorn towards the community. Republican candidate Donald Trump has been openly critical of Muslim immigration.
Rafat Ashraf Khalaf, a junior at New York University, whose family immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island in 1912, recently faced discrimination by a cyber-bully online.
“When you analyze this election and the rhetoric that is thrown around, the situation continues to exacerbate,” Khalaf said. “I have personally received a bunch of hateful messages, mostly through the Internet. A guy … messaged me on Facebook and said, “F. OFF and go back to your country. Leave.”
In the days following the attacks, many leaders encouraged Americans not to blame the Muslim community for attacks. But lately the media is filled with threats of deportation. The recurrent attacks in France, the shootings in California and Florida and the rise of the terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) have again made local Muslim targets of American anger.
“A lot of people really don’t know anything about Islam, only what they see on the news,” Khalaf said. “So when the only thing they hear about is a bombing by someone who claims to be Muslim, that is going to only negatively impact their perception of Muslims as a whole.”
These negative labels have confusioned some Muslims like, Afraz Khan, 21, a student at New York University.
“I am at a point now that if I see someone who has a large beard, rather than seeing that as a mark of their faith or seeing it as someone I can trust or someone who is part of my community, I am more in a doubt that proud,” Khan said.
Despite the negativity surrounding his religion, Khan believes better days are ahead.
“I think people are becoming more willing to learn about and understand one another,” Khan said.
Sakim Alam, a Bangladeshi pharmacist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, Queens, was in fourth grade when the 9/11 attacks occurred. While he feared the repercussion of the attacks on Muslims, today Alam sees it as a good opportunity to educate people.
“Instead of feeling offended, we, Muslims should educate the public on the proper/peaceful teachings of Islam through words and examples,” said Alam. “Yes, there is racism and prejudice everywhere, but all of that will change when we show the world that we are the same as everyone else.”