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Trump's Travel Ban Strands Iran-born Chicago Artist In Australia

By Ed Komenda | January 30, 2017 4:49pm | Updated on January 30, 2017 7:38pm

BRIDGEPORT — President Donald Trump's executive order banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries has stranded a notable Chicago artist in Australia.

On Saturday, Sarvin Haghighi, a resident artist at Bridgeport’s Zhou B Art Center, was barred from returning to the United States from a trip in Australia, her husband said. She is Muslim and a native of Iran, one of the seven countries listed in the order.

Her husband, Andy Culley, has launched a campaign to bring her home.

“The irony in all of this is that Sarvin came to the USA to enjoy the personal and artistic freedoms that her nation of birth could not guarantee,” Culley wrote in a widely shared Facebook post sharing the story of his wife’s struggles in legal limbo.

Culley has spent hours on the phone with lawyers trying to get his wife back to Chicago. “It's heartbreaking that a person who has contributed so much to her adopted country is being turned away,” he said.

Trump's order, signed Friday, suspends all U.S. refugee resettlement for 120 days, bars Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocks travel into the U.S. for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also caused confusion for green card holders from those seven countries and stalled them from automatically re-entering the U.S. again if they travel abroad.

The travel ban drew throngs of picketers to O'Hare, demanding a reversal of Trump's order. After a swell of protesters gathered at John F. Kennedy Airport late Saturday morning, similar demonstrations cropped up at international airport terminals around the country, including Dallas, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Around 8:15 p.m. Saturday, a federal judge in Brooklyn temporarily halted the deportation of visa holders arriving at airports around the country. On Sunday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a statement vowing to let green card holders into the country "absent significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare."

Homeland Security later clarified that Trump’s executive order does not apply to permanent residents of the United States.

Haghighi, who was not immediately available to talk to DNAinfo, is a permanent resident of the United States.

Andy Culley and Sarvin Haghighi. [Facebook.]

A celebrated Chicago artist with exhibitions all over the world, Haghighi blends Persian calligraphy with messages of love from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi.

For the last few days, Culley has been on the phone with lawyers trying to get his wife home. She is now staying with family in Australia.

Lawyers told Culley that travelers affected by the ban should avoid certain airports. Many states are inconsistently interpreting the directives of Trump’s executive order, particularly in Houston, Dallas and Atlanta.

On Monday, former President Barack Obama said he was "heartened" by the protests that erupted at airports all over the country in response to Trump's decision to ban entry to the U.S. for refugees and immigrants from predominately Muslim countries.

In an unprecedented statement coming 10 days after leaving office, Obama did not mention his successor by name. Typically, former presidents avoid weighing in on politics.

"The president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion," Obama's statement said, dismissing attempts by some members of the Trump administration to liken the ban to actions taken by Obama.

Issued by the former president's spokesman, the statement noted that Obama urged Americans to be "the guardians of our democracy" in his farewell address, delivered at McCormick Place.

"Citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake."

The ban also has been criticized by Illinois Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth as well as Democratic U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley and Jan Schakowsky. On Sunday, Cardinal Blase Cupich said the ban would will be remembered as "a dark moment in U.S. history."

Despite mounting global criticism and backlash, President Trump has adamantly defended his immigration order and denied it amounted to a ban on Muslims.

Haghighi's story has caught the attention of celebrities like Irvine Welsh, a Scottish novelist and the author of "Trainspotting."

Andy Culley and Sarvin Haghighi. [Facebook.]