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CUNY Vows to Fight for Brooklyn Student Stuck in Iran After Travel Ban

 Barbara Bowen, left, stands with members of the staff union at CUNY, Professional Staff Congress, at a rally for their member Saira Rafiee, an Iranian graduate student unable to come back to the United States to study due to President Trump's recent travel ban.
Barbara Bowen, left, stands with members of the staff union at CUNY, Professional Staff Congress, at a rally for their member Saira Rafiee, an Iranian graduate student unable to come back to the United States to study due to President Trump's recent travel ban.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

BROOKLYN — Colleagues of a Brooklyn CUNY student stuck in Iran after the president’s recent travel ban are vowing to fight for her — and up to 120 other CUNY students affected by the new order — to return to America to study.

The CUNY Professional Staff Congress said it is attempting to provide legal help to Saira Rafiee, an Iranian graduate student who was visiting family in her home country last week when Donald Trump’s executive order went into effect.

In a Facebook post, Rafiee, 31, said she had been checking into the airport to return to the United States when Trump’s order came down and has been unable to return since then.

The Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident had previously been studying and teaching political science at the CUNY Graduate Center under an F1 student visa, she said.

 Borough President Eric Adams spoke out against the executive order at the rally for Rafiee. He was joined by Hercules Reid, right, Student Government Association president at CUNY CIty Tech who is in touch with Rafiee's cousin to help her family get legal help.
Borough President Eric Adams spoke out against the executive order at the rally for Rafiee. He was joined by Hercules Reid, right, Student Government Association president at CUNY CIty Tech who is in touch with Rafiee's cousin to help her family get legal help.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

“I have devoted a major part of my scholarly life to the study of authoritarianism,” she wrote in the post.

“It is time to call things by their true names; this is Islamophobia, racism, fascism.”

It’s unclear how or if Rafiee will find her way back to New York. Those from CUNY in touch with her family said she has not yet connected with an attorney or taken legal steps to contest the order.

► READ: Here's What We Know About Trump's Refugee Ban

But CUNY representatives who rallied with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams outside the federal courthouse on Cadman Plaza on Monday said they’ll do everything they can to help her and students like her.

The university said over the weekend about 120 students could be affected by the ban.

"I will vow to fight for her," said Barbara Bowen, the PSC union president.

“I join the students and faculty here …for fighting for the simple right of someone who has legal status, who has been thoroughly vetted, who is on a visa, simply to rejoin her fellow students, faculty, staff and resume her studies," she said. “It is an outrage.”

Adams, too, strongly condemned Trump’s “draconian actions” against refugees and people from Muslim-majority countries.

“It starts with the Muslim faith. We don’t know where it ends up. That’s why Americans are speaking out because [if] today we ban Muslims, who do we ban next in this country?” he asked.

At the rally, Adams and the CUNY representatives reaffirmed the city and university’s commitment as sanctuaries for immigrants.

In a statement on Sunday, CUNY Chancellor James Milliken put those promises in writing, saying the university will not assist immigration enforcement “except as required by law,” will protect student record information and refuse to turn over that information to immigration enforcement, “will not request or gather information about students’ citizenship or immigration status” and will not permit immigration enforcement to enter the campus except by warrant or court order.

As Milliken wrote that statement, news broke Sunday of a bill in the New York State Senate that would require private and public universities in the state to collect data on its foreign-born college students, the New York Daily News reported.

The bill is sponsored by the chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, Kenneth LaValle, a Republican from Suffolk County.