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.
…”This is a neutral area, but the U.S. government doesn’t accept this situation, and they put a lot of pressure on us,” said Sina Dadsetan, an Iranian living in Canada who traveled to the library to see his sister the same day Estahbanati saw her family.
…As they approached each other at the border, demarcated outside the library by a line of flower pots, a U.S. Border Patrol agent quickly got out of a car parked close by.
“He said, ‘It’s been about a month that we’ve closed this; we don’t allow anyone to meet here,'” Izadmehr said. “I asked him, ‘Can you at least give me permission to hug my sister?'”
The agent allowed them to embrace but barred them from exchanging the gifts they had brought – dresses, Swiss chocolates and a watch – and kept a close eye on them as they talked from opposite sides of the flower pots.
The sisters finally entered the library when a staff member offered them a tour, but Border Patrol agents later chastised the staff member, said Izadmehr, who witnessed the exchange.
…The library is vulnerable to pressure from authorities because although the building sits on American and Canadian land, its entrance is on the U.S. side. U.S. officials allow staff and visitors from Canada to walk a few yards onto American soil without going through an official port of entry.
“Often there’s altercations with either RCMP or (U.S.) border security,” head librarian Joel Kerr said in a brief interview in early November, on a day in which two Iranian families reunited at the library. “They mostly harass us and threaten to shut us down.”
…The Iranians were mostly oblivious to signs stating in English and French that, by order of the library’s board of trustees, “family gatherings are not permitted.” Kerr said the signs had gone up just the week before.