28 November 2018 |Yeganeh Torbati| Reuters
DERBY LINE, VERMONT/STANSTEAD, QUEBEC (Reuters) – During the six-hour drive from New York City to a tiny town in northern Vermont, Iranian student Shirin Estahbanati cried at the thought of seeing her father for the first time in nearly three years. Since then, he had suffered a heart attack, and she hadn’t dared leave America to comfort him.
But as she traveled north, she also couldn’t stop worrying. What if she missed the turnoff and drove across the U.S.-Canadian border by mistake?
Estahbanati, like many Iranian students in the United States, has a single-entry visa and can’t leave the country without risking that she won’t be allowed back in. And her parents, as Iranian citizens, are blocked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban from visiting her in the United States.
She didn’t want to miss her destination: the Haskell Free Library and Opera House.
Estahbanati and her family had agreed to meet around 9 a.m. at the library, which through a historic anomaly straddles the U.S.-Canada border – and today has been thrust into an unlikely role as the site of emotional reunions between people separated by the administration’s immigration policies.
The 31-year-old parked her car and, excitement battling with anxiety, walked to the entrance of the Victorian building. But two hours later, her parents and sister still had not appeared from the Canadian side, and her calls to her sister’s cell phone went unanswered.
Finally, she saw them. Because of construction near the library, their GPS device had sent them to the line for the U.S. port of entry. Her parents had no U.S. visas, and they had been detained by American border agents. After approximately two hours, they were released and allowed to join Estahbanati at the library.
When they hugged each other, it felt as if her father had shrunk. He took a deep breath as he held his daughter tight. “I missed your smell,” he told her.
Remembering the moment, her smile turned down with the effort not to cry. “The time I was just hugging my parents,” she said, “I was thinking, I wish I could stop all clocks all over the world.”