Some citizens outside ‘countries of concern’ worried about travel plans

     Halee Bouchehrian is a Philly resident who was born in Germany to Iranian immigrant parents and is a permanent resident of the U.S. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Halee Bouchehrian is a Philly resident who was born in Germany to Iranian immigrant parents and is a permanent resident of the U.S. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Halee Bouchehrian has her hands full. She runs her own architecture firm and she has two kids, a baby boy and a four-year-old daughter.

    For weeks, Bouchehrian has been busy planning the four-year-old’s “kitty cat”-themed birthday party, from designing the invitations herself and ordering a special cake match, to arranging for her father to fly over from Germany for the celebration in Philadelphia.

    Then, on Monday, she got an e-mail from her father.

    “It doesn’t look like I can come,” he wrote.

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    Bouchehrian’s parents were both born in Iran, one of the seven “countries of concern” affected by Trump’s executive order. Bouchehrian and her sister were both born in Germany and the whole family became naturalized German citizens, although the Iranian government still considers them all citizens of that country, as well.

    That’s why Bouchehrian’s father also has a U.S. travel visa, unlike other German citizens who only need a passport to fly to the states.  Still, he told her to cancel his hotel reservation.

    “He was reading about it in the papers and he said, ‘what I’m reading here in the papers is that I would actually be affected by the executive order,'” said Bouchehrian.

    She was shocked.

    She had read about the move by the Trump administration and was dismayed by it for personal political reasons, but did not expect it to affect her father’s travel plans, which had been made at least three months prior.

    Bouchehrian called Ralf Wiedemann, the honorary German consul in Philadelphia.

    Wiedemann said he’s been getting more calls than usual in the week since the executive order came down — he estimates about half a dozen. Most of them are from people who are dual citizens of the U.S. and Germany who’ve let their foreign passports expire.

    “I’ve been getting more inquiries from people like that who may have had a German passport based on their parentage when they were children and would like to know, ‘Well, can I get a passport again in case I need to live for longer periods of time in Germany?'” said Wiedemann, who is also an immigration attorney.

    Things are also very busy at the Mexican Consulate on Independence Mall, where people start lining up in the waiting room at 8:30 weekday mornings.

    The consulate has been encouraging people to come in. One week after the election, the Mexican government launched a publicity campaign called “estamos contigo” or “we are with you” — an attempt to quell the fears of its citizens overseas, including those in the U.S. with and without authorization.

    “The idea is to tell the community, we here at the consulate, we can help you,” said Alicia Kerber is Mexico’s Consul general in Philadelphia.

    While the Trump administration’s immigration policies are still unfolding, Kerber said the consulate’s advice to most people is to keep their noses clean: not to drive without a valid license and not to sign any documents without calling the consulate first.

    For Halee Bouchehrian, reaching out to her consulate worked.

    Four days and many phone calls and emails later, the State Department and the German Embassy in New York re-assured Bouchehrian that her father will be able to fly from Germany to Philadelphia.  The late Friday ruling by a federal judge in Seattle putting a temporary halt to President Trump’s executive order would only give her more reason for optimism.

    Still, she says she won’t be able to relax until she sees him in the arrival hall on Saturday afternoon. She worries the 80-year-old, who speaks halting English, will be stopped and questioned by U.S. immigration officials.

    The incident has also shaken her confidence in her own ability to move between borders. While she has been a German citizen most of her life and a permanent resident of the U.S. for more than 20 years, Bouchehrian is taking steps to become an American citizen like her husband and children. In the meantime, she has no plans to leave the country anytime soon.

    “In the eyes of the government, I have an Iranian [citizenship],” she said. “That’s sort of this burden you carry with you. I don’t want it, but I can’t divest myself of it, so I’m worried.”

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