When 29-year-old Nazanin Zinouri, nicknamed “Naz,” left her South Carolina home to visit her mother and sister in Tehran, she had no idea that she’d fall smack in the middle of President Trump’s immigration controversy upon her attempted return to the U.S. While it was no secret that Trump walked a hard line when it came to immigration, the speed and sweeping nature of his ban truly came as a shock.
Upon hearing the news, Zinouri immediately tried to return back to the U.S., but it was already too late. While traveling through Dubai to switch planes, she was denied access to her U.S. flight and was forced to return Tehran instead. As a valid U.S. visa holder, Zinouri turned to her boss, Eric Martinez, to figure out her next steps.
Martinez is CEO and Founder of Modjoul, a company that develops wearable technology to help ensure safety and productivity in the workplace. He started the company in June of 2016 and had already expanded to 12 employees – one of whom was the highly-respected Zinouri, who holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Clemson University. He met Zinouri through his board work with Clemson Engineering and Sciences and terms the job she performs for the company as “critical.”
Martinez immediately gained backing from South Carolina Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott. Additional support came from his Clemson University “family,” as well as current and past employees of insurance giant AIG, where he previously had overseen a team of 25,000.
Martinez’s social media contacts – fueled by his extremely broad business network – helped him quickly get the word out through his #letNAZin campaign. “This community was absolutely ready to help,” he says. “Once I posted about Naz’s plight on LinkedIn, it quickly spiraled to 125,000 views and then to over 350,000.” That’s where an Envoy employee found out about Naz and wanted to help. Bobbi Sweezey, Envoy’s Accounts Receivable Coordinator, reached out and connected Martinez with Ryan Bay, immigration attorney and Director of Legal Operations for GIA, an Envoy-affiliated law firm. They immediately started discussing their options and Eric found documents on Envoy’s site to help Naz.
“Through legal channels, we were threaded three ways,” Martinez continues. “The first was the Washington Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, who was going for a total repeal of the Trump order. Next was the Microsoft strategy of going for an exemption for F1s, J1s, OPTs, and H1Bs to get them treated like green cards. The third thread was to fight an individual battle and try for an exemption.’”
A solution came about days later on February 3rd, when Washington U.S. District Judge James Robart issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban, which was upheld by a federal appeals court the following week.
After a tumultuous few days, Zinouri has resumed her position as a data scientist at Modjoul and has been happily reunited with her dog. The company met her at the Greenville airport with signs and placards and Senator Graham called to express his congratulations. “All in all,” says Martinez, “Naz handled it like a pro. She never took the bait or got political in her answers to reporters.” On Zinouri’s part, it was never about the politics – it was only about getting her life back.
For Martinez, it was about helping Naz because so many others don’t have that support. “I think the big issue going forward is that immigrants are afraid to speak up. In talking with groups like CAIR – the Counsel for American Islamic Relations – I found that the hardest part is really around finding people that are willing to put their name on a lawsuit. You really do have an under-protected class that you’re trying to help and it just makes it harder. But it’s the power of this community that made this situation easier and I hope that continues.”
Martinez says, “Thank you to companies like Envoy who were there to help and provide support and technical expertise. For us, these battles come but once in our lifetime, so to see the community come together and say ‘Hey, just so you know, here’s something to think about, too.’ it made and will continue to make all the difference.”