GREER — A South Carolina resident who had become stuck in Iran following President Trump's executive order limiting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries said Monday she "just wants to get back to a normal life" in the country she's made her home.
Nazanin Zinouri was greeted at the Greenville area airport with kisses from her dog Dexter and well-wishers — both co-workers and strangers — holding signs reading "Welcome Home."
"It's hard to put it into words, but it was so much emotion," she said about being reunited with her seven-month-old rescue dog. "I did think about this a million times, and it was very difficult to think that I might never be able to see him again."
Zinouri, an Iranian citizen and legal U.S. resident, was among those caught up in the chaos surrounding Trump's Jan. 20 order. She had flown to Iran to visit her mother and siblings, but when she tried to return, she was barred from boarding a plane in Dubai. The airline helped her get back to Tehran, where she waited and worried.
"The entire time that I spent with my family, instead of being a vacation, it was just a time that I was exposing them to more stress and anxiety and sadness," she said.
While she was born in Tehran, she said, she chose America as her home. She moved to the U.S. in August 2010 and got a master's degree from Northern Illinois University. She then earned a Ph.D. in industrial engineering last year on a full scholarship from Clemson University, where she won a prestigious research award.
She began working in August for the startup technology firm Modjoul in Clemson, which makes a monitor for workers to help companies prevent injuries.
"It's difficult to think about everything that I have gained all these years, it's going to be taken away. That's why it's very important, everything that I have here is through my own" hard work, she said. "I do definitely love the life that I have here."
Zinouri boarded a plane early Saturday after a federal judge temporarily blocked Trump's order following a lawsuit by Washington state and Minnesota. A federal appeals court on Sunday denied a Justice Department request for an immediate reinstatement, creating at least a temporary opening for travel by citizens of the seven countries.
Zinouri said she feared — as she traveled from Tehran to Frankfurt, Germany, to Boston — of what may happen while she was in their air.
Once she cleared U.S. Customs, "it was just amazing. I wasn't sure if this was actually real, or if I'm dreaming."
Modjoul's founder, Eric Martinez, said Zinouri was "courageous and brave to get here."
He said the company worked to get her back because "she's one of the people you want to have here."
"She's just a great person. She works hard. She loves this country," said Martinez, a Clemson University graduate who lives in Seattle but arrived in South Carolina with Zinouri.
He added that she has skills few possess.
"You just can't find Ph.D.'s, data scientists working the models we needed to work on.... We decided if we didn't fight for her, nobody else would."