As a young girl growing up in Iran, Sarvin Haghighi used art to express herself in the 1980s, a violent and oppressive time in her country's history.
When she came to the U.S. in 2013, after a stint in the United Arab Emirates, Haghighi embraced the new freedoms that were afforded to her, said her husband, Andy Culley. Her artwork, displayed at the Zhou B Art Center in Bridgeport and other galleries in Chicago, blends Farsi calligraphy and Islamic designs with modern elements, a representation of her cosmopolitan story.
Haghighi, 37, is now stuck in Melbourne, Australia, after vacationing there during an inopportune time — the days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning refugees from entering the U.S. and freezing immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran. Haghighi got her green card last year and is traveling with an Iranian passport.
It's unclear how many people residing in the U.S. are stranded abroad, according to attorneys, who said they only learn about situations when contacted by relatives or friends seeking help. At least one Chicago resident, a student doctor from Syria, was barred from boarding a plane in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and remains there. A Chicago man who traveled to his native Iran to visit his mother filed a federal lawsuit after a ticketing agency on Saturday would not sell him a return ticket to the U.S., citing Trump's order.
Haghighi's husband returned a week earlier, but she stayed to spend more time with her siblings who live in Australia.
"My level of concern is at an 11," said Culley, 43, who runs an education business and lives with Haghighi in the West Loop. "I never thought something like this would happen here. ... It's a little scary, but, frankly, I try not to tell her that."
As Trump's sudden move Friday set off a frenzy at airports around the world, the couple's attorneys advised Haghighi to skip her original flight in case customs officials seized her passport or barred her from boarding.
Since then, federal judges in New York, Massachusetts and Virginia have blocked Trump's order, directing customs officials at airports to allow passengers with visas to enter the U.S. Only the New York ruling was said to apply nationwide, though, according to Chicago attorney Maria Berger, who has experience with immigration law.
The orders also differ from one another in that some referred to removal from the country and others addressed detaining people, said Berger, who is not involved in the case and has volunteered at O'Hare during the tumult that has prompted crowds of protesters all week.
Culley is working frantically with his attorneys to rebook Haghighi's flight back, which was originally set to arrive Monday in Houston.
The attorneys were worried about her landing in Houston, which doesn't fall in any federal districts where stays were ordered. Her attorneys denied an interview request for this story but are attempting to book her on a flight that arrives in New York, Boston or Chicago, Culley said.
Matthew Sperry, an immigration attorney at a firm based in the Loop, said it makes sense to try to land in Boston since that court issued a stay on both detainment and deportation.
"It certainly is prudent during the circumstances given the language of the verbiage that's out there," he said.
Also unclear is how U.S. green card holders like Haghighi are affected.
At first, Trump's policy appeared to include permanent U.S. residents carrying green cards as dozens were subject to lengthy questioning by customs officials nationwide. The Department of Homeland Security on Saturday said the ban extended to legal U.S. residents. But Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus said Sunday that green card holders would be exempt from the order. As late as Monday afternoon, though, one green card carrier from Iraq was questioned for five hours.
Culley did not want to elaborate on his wife's itinerary for fear of backlash from customs officials, citing reports that officials are combing travelers' social media and phones.
The couple met through a mutual friend while hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania together about five years ago, Culley said. They dated long-distance for a couple of years, and she moved to the U.S. in 2013.
Looking forward, Culley said he is more concerned about future trips in case his wife needs to visit her father, who is sick with prostate cancer, in Iran.
"I think we'll be fine, but I just don't want to take any chances," he said. "I'm just upset we had to go through this."