Shirin Estahbanati is a PhD student in environmental engineering in New York City and these phone calls with her mother help bridge a divide that spans the globe.>> It is tough, like living on the other side of the Earth, far from your parents.>> Shirin is an Iranian citizen and she holds what's called a single entry US visa, that means that if she leaves she must reapply for a new visa.
And for nearly two years, she's wondered when she'll next see her mother and father. While Shirin can stay in the US to finish her studies, an executive order signed by US President Donald Trump bans nearly all Iranians from visiting the US.>> I can't leave and they can't even apply for visa because they know that they're not gonna get them.
Iranians outside the US wonder when they will next see loved ones studying in America.
and Shirin's families were able to reunite at the library over the same two days in August, and they weren't the only ones.>> At least three more families I saw, at least, maybe even more.
My sister is not far from me, my sister lives in Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh from Toronto is only five hours driving, it's not too far but I cannot go there.>> Build bridges, not walls, build bridges, not walls!>> The Supreme Court upheld the travel ban
>> The travel ban, it's protests, and subsequent court battles may have faded from headlines but family ties aren't as fast to fade.>> I cannot easily say, okay, let's forget about my sister, I think we are not alone, there are too many people have the same feeling. So we we try to come up with some other ideas.
>> So one day, I heard from my sister that there is a library.>> There is a place where dozens of Iranian families separated by the travel ban have found where they can meet. Most learn about it through word of mouth because the place isn't meant for family reunions.
>> I tried to search online, but there was nothing on social media, I feel that the Iranian community tried to keep this information a secret.>> It's hard to find, it's out of the way, and when Reuters correspondent, Yeganeh Torbati learned about it, she wanted to see it with her own eyes.
>> In this video, this family which have reunited here at the library are in the children's reading room. And they're pointing at this black line on the floor and that black line marks the border between the US and Canada. The Haskell Free Library was established more than 100 years ago and it was deliberately built across the border.
Across the US Canada border effectively to serve as a meeting point and as the gathering place for people from these two different towns. These fairly small towns on either side of the US Canada border. And it was built in a time before the northern border had really hardened to the point.
That we see now where you could just walk across the border with no real issue, just wave at the border agent. And that those days are really over and in that sense the Haskell Library, itself a relic of an era where these international boundaries didn't quite matter as much.
At basically any other point along the US-Canada border, you have to go through a port of entry to officially and legally to cross the border. And even just a few hundred yards away from the Haskell Library, there is an actual official port of entry that connects the town of Stanstead, Quebec to the town of Derby Line, Vermont.
What's unique about the library is that they have a special dispensation where people can park on the Canadian side. And walk just a few feet on American soil, onto the sidewalk and go in through the front entrance, which is on American soil. And that is a privilege that's unique to the library, even within this town, at other points in the town, you have to go through an official port of entry to cross the actual boundary.
And now the mom who had traveled from Iran to Canada to see her sons is standing over the line and there's one son on each side. And the way they've set it up is that the son who lives in America is on the American side and the side who lives in Canada is on the Canadian side.
And they're posing for a photo with her arms outstretched, holding both sons.>> The place, by law, it's a neutralized area, it's not Canada, it's not US, or let's say, it's both Canada and US, so both residents can go inside of the library without breaking any law.>> But visiting the Haskell Free Library from either Canada or the US can be difficult.
That's because it's in a place where one can easily cross an international border by accident. And if you're Iranian mistakenly crossing into another country can bring a world of trouble.>> Be careful about the border, don't pass it, be very careful, check the map. Even if Google Maps or other maps give you the route, the closest route, don't follow that.
>> Shirin's parents flew from Iran to Canada and then drove south to meet her at the library. And they learned their relying on a GPS navigator left them at the mercy of the unexpected, in this case, construction on the Canadian side.>> Because of the construction, the GPS showed them they have to cross the border.
The GPS doesn't know about the limitation, like laws and stuff like that. So they stopped them, the border protections stopped my parents.>> Shirin's parents were detained by US border patrol, who questioned them and did not let them answer their phones.>> Until you actually go to this area, you don't really understand how it all works and what the layout is.
I myself accidentally crossed into Canada and then, when coming back, was unaware that I had to check in with U.S. Border Patrol, and therefore I was detained. I'm a US citizen and I didn't have any problems but I was detained for a little bit and they searched my car and if I had technically violated the law.
It gave me a new perspective on what some of these families must be thinking and what they must be going through. Shirin's parents were released after approximately two hours and what had been planned as a two-day visit was cut even shorter.>> Even the time the border protections came and they said they have just 20 minutes and my parents arrived 15 minutes after.
I was thinking even that 5 minutes is enough because I can have them, I can just have them next to me for some minutes. My sister came, my nephews came, and my parents, we said goodbye, we went to our hotels, and then the day after, we just came to the library.
>> Yeah, it's my mom, that's my mom, my cousin, my father, and my sister in here, that's US side.>>
>> It was couple of other Iranian students with their family as well, and you saw the library, the library is a tiny place.>> It's pretty complicated for the library, I and the people that I spoke with who had met there. Got the sense that many of the staff were very sympathetic to their plight and wanted to enable their visits.
And so at the same time, the library is facing a lot of pressure from Canadian and American immigration authorities. The authorities allowed the visits to occur when I was there but I’ve heard a lot of stories of Iranians saying that they were pressured by authorities to end the visits, to shorten them.
The library has signs posted up all around saying that family gatherings are not permitted. But those were pretty much ignored while I was there, the families were actually oblivious to the fact that the library had this policy until I pointed out the signs of them.>> The Haskell Library directors declined of most of Reuters' requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Canada's federal law enforcement agency denied that their agents put pressure on the library over the visits. A spokesman for US customs and border protection declined to respond to Reuters' questions about interactions with families or the library.>> I get the sense from speaking to former members of the board and people with a connection to the library that they don't want a lot of attention on this issue.
And there is a concern that any attention would attract more families and therefore attract more pressure from authorities.>> Amid the tension, scenes of joyful reunion tinged with sadness.>> I didn't know the time, I was just hugging my parents, I was thinking, I wish I could stop all clocks all over the world.
I don't know, I can't explain, I can't explain how tough it was, especially about my dad, I thought even he is shorter than the time I left.
I don't know, the time he met me, he started smelling me and he was like, I missed your smell.
>> If my parent come next year and if this travel ban still exist maybe we do the same thing again. Maybe, because we are not breaking any law, this is the only solution we have right now. And if they're gonna stop us from this way, we try to find another solution.