U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday that he expects President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries to be modified, and he's working to get Nazanin Zinouri back to South Carolina "as soon as possible."
Graham told people at Zinouri's workplace in Clemson, South Carolina, that the 29-year-old Clemson University graduate "is exactly the type of person we want to be part of America."
"She's a valid visa holder. She's paying taxes, and she's adding value to this business," he said at Modjoul, a startup technology firm where Zinouri has worked since August. "She's intelligent. She adds value to our country, and I'll find a way to fix this problem."
Zinouri left Jan. 20 for what was supposed to be a three-week vacation to see family in Iran. After Trump signed Friday's order temporarily banning entry from citizens of Iran and six other nations, she says she tried to get back but was taken off a plane in Dubai.
"We've made a mistake," Graham said.
While Trump can limit some people coming into the country, an executive order can't "arbitrarily yank" someone's existing legal status, he said.
"What I think happened here is, the executive order was issued without really thinking it through," Graham said. "The mistake is lumping everybody in one big pot."
Zinouri was among those caught up in the chaos surrounding Trump's order regarding citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. The administration says it is necessary to keep out potential terrorists while stricter vetting procedures are put in place.
"I was planning on enjoying time with family and taking care of family business," Zinouri said Sunday in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Tehran. "But I've not been able to do any of them. I'm mostly just listening to the news. ... I can't really focus or enjoy anything as much as I want. I can't even have a normal conversation."
She moved to the U.S. in August 2010 and got a master's degree from Northern Illinois University, then got a Ph.D. in industrial engineering last year on a full scholarship from Clemson University, where she won a prestigious research award.
Graham said Zinouri's father died several years ago, but her mother and siblings still live in Tehran.
She was barely in Iran 48 hours when she began to hear rumblings that the United States might take action to prevent travel from some countries, so she began looking for flights home.
But flights out of Tehran were difficult to book because of snow. Her employer was working to get her back Friday but couldn't, said company founder Eric Martinez of Mercer Island, Washington, who described Zinouri as "the smartest lady I know."
"It was actually really scary," Zinouri said. "My mom was here crying. ... Fog and snow were everywhere. It was terrible. But I was still trying (to get out)."
Eventually, she got as far as Dubai but wasn't allowed to continue on the flight to Washington, D.C.
In a statement, Zinouri sought public support for her return to the United States. "My story will be much like others who dedicated their lives to their dream — the American dream — and whose intentions and lives were turned upside-down on Friday without notice or reason," she wrote.
She was able to return to her family in Tehran to wait out the situation and hope for the best. As for the U.S., she says she wants "to feel what I have always felt."
"I think of it as a welcoming place."
Waggoner reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. Associated Press Writer Seanna Adcox in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.