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Trump immigration ban spurs anxiety and confusion

Boston University President Robert A. Brown’s letter to BU community says executive order “diminishes our nation”

President Trump’s executive order on immigration, signed Friday, sparked global chaos by suspending entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, banning those from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, and suspending admission indefinitely for Syrian refugees. The immigration order was among several he signed during his first week in office. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivai

President Trump’s sweeping ban on Muslim immigration, in an executive order signed Friday afternoon, has upended the travel, and the lives, of a few BU international affiliates, even as most have been able to return to campus. Nationwide, uncertainty gripped college campuses as a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., temporarily halted some deportations while courts consider challenges to the ban. Federal judges in Massachusetts and Virginia have also issued restraining orders.

BU has 102 undergraduate and graduate students and 16 scholars from the seven predominantly Muslim countries that are under a 90-day moratorium on entry to the United States in Trump’s order: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Most of the students and scholars have checked in with BU’s International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) and confirmed they’re on campus, says Jeanne Kelley, ISSO managing director.

However, Mary Murphy-Phillips, School of Public Health director of graduate student life, says two SPH students were affected. One, who returned home to Mozambique for the Christmas holidays, has been unable to get a visa and return to the United States. Although Mozambique isn’t among the seven nations listed in the order, the student speculates that immigration officials were uncertain about issuing visas in the run-up to Trump’s Friday order, Murphy-Phillips says. The student hopes to get a visa later this week, but will have missed three weeks of class already, she says.

The second SPH student is married to an Iraqi man who had traveled from Boston to Tanzania for work and has been unable to secure a visa to return to Boston, she says.

Nationwide, thousands of academics, including 20 Nobel laureates, have signed a petition protesting the executive order.

BU President Robert A. Brown, in a letter emailed yesterday to the University community, called the immigration order “fundamentally inconsistent with the values that are the bedrock of Boston University and, indeed, of our pluralistic, welcoming society. The Executive Order diminishes our nation as a beacon for freedom and opportunity. As an academic community, we must stand together to support each other at this time of uncertainty and use a clear voice to affirm our principles and voice our deep concern.”

Brown advised students from the seven affected nations not to travel outside the United States, as they may not be readmitted. He also said any students with questions should contact the ISSO; such students should use the form that can be found here.

Thousands of protesters, including many from the BU community, gathered in Copley Square yesterday to demonstrate against President Trump’s immigration order. Photo by John Montey

A campus town hall meeting to discuss the situation will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, January 31, at 5:30 p.m. in the George Sherman Union Metcalf Ballroom, 775 Commonwealth Ave. The event is hosted by BU Global Programs and the Dean of Students office and will be moderated by Willis Wang, vice president and associate provost for global programs. An immigration lawyer and ISSO staff will be on hand to discuss Trump’s order and field questions.

Members of BU’s international community expressed a combination of sorrow, anger, and anxiety over the president’s action.

“I felt fear,” says Sudan native Salma Mohamed Hassan Abdalla (SPH’16), who is currently working as a research and teaching assistant at SPH on a student visa. She says the ban will force her to miss an upcoming medical students conference in Montenegro for fear of not being able to reenter the United States. More troubling is the impact the order may have on her future. Abdalla has applied to several doctoral programs in this country, but fears she may now be forced to give up those plans.

“This ban is telling me that my family does not deserve the life I am lucky to have. It shows me that even if you pay your taxes and serve the community…your race, religion, and national origin are the only deciding factor.”
— Lul Mohamud

“I only applied to US-based universities because the past two years have shown me what freedom of speech and acceptance of diversity look like,” she says. “A big part of my decision to come to the United States is that I believed I would find the freedom and inclusion that we lack in my country.” Deadlines for applying to foreign PhD programs have largely passed, she says. “I will probably have to go back to my country if the ban continues, where the future looks even more grim.”

She says she is grateful for Brown’s email and the fact that the ISSO contacted her even before Trump signed his order. “Knowing that BU’s leadership is following up on the issue does add some sense of support to the general state of loss I am experiencing right now,” she says.

Lul Mohamud (CAS’19), the daughter of Somali immigrants, decries the ban as “solely based on the fear of Muslim people and a fear of the demonized refugees that are and have been trying to live lives away from the atrocities of war. This is a humanitarian crisis.” With much of her family still in Somalia, she says, “this ban is telling me that my family does not deserve the life I am lucky to have. It shows me that even if you pay your taxes and serve the community…your race, religion, and national origin are the only deciding factor.

“America is losing touch with its values and its history,” Mohamud adds.

Sadaf Atarod, a postdoctoral associate at BU’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, says she’s worried that the ban may thwart her parents’ plans to visit her from Iran this summer, and her ability to leave the country to visit them. “It’s upsetting and disturbing,” says Atarod, a stem cell biologist who rejected job offers in the United Kingdom because she was attracted by Boston’s prowess in the stem cell field. “Now, I am doubting my career choice and move to this land. Had I been aware of this change, I would have never, ever have left the UK.…It seems my race, culture, and ethnicity all override me as a person, and my career.”

Faculty expressed similar feelings. Sandro Galea, dean of SPH and Robert A. Knox Professor, emigrated from Malta to North America as a teenager. “I find this turn of events deeply disturbing and challenging,” Galea says, “both from the perspective of a school of public health and from the perspective of an American. An approach that builds walls, both literally and indirectly, through a concerted effort to try to keep the world out, is bound to fail. It only causes unnecessary discord and sows the seeds for a rending of the global social compact, creating opportunities for breakdowns that will encourage the spread of disease and erode our capacity to promote health.”

“Reading President Trump’s executive order sends a chill down the spine,” says Adil Najam, dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies. “It has ignited fear not only amongst refugees, immigrant families, students, and visitors from the seven countries it names, but across society, and especially in academia.

“The very best and brightest from across the world have been drawn to our universities, in part because America has been so nurturing and welcoming to the ‘huddled masses’ everywhere,” says Najam, who is also a College of Arts & Sciences professor of earth and environment and of international relations. “This executive order not only sends a signal to those from the countries it mentions, but also to scholars, researchers, and students from across the world that we are no longer a welcoming place. This message must be countered, by our words and by our actions.”

And Shahla Haeri, a CAS associate professor of anthropology, is concerned for one of her graduate students who is from Iran and was set to return there shortly to conduct research. “His life is turned upside down, and he is stuck in limbo now,” she says, noting that “Mr. Trump’s action is feeding the fire, casting America as the enemy of Muslims and the Muslim world….His arbitrary executive order has not only increased uncertainty and chaos all over the world, but in the words of the Iranian foreign minister, it “only serves to provide a fertile ground for more terrorist recruitment by deepening the ruptures and fault lines.”

“The very best and brightest from across the world have been drawn to our universities, in part because America has been so nurturing and welcoming to the ‘huddled masses’ everywhere.”
— Adil Najam

Besides the 90-day ban on people entering from the seven Muslim countries, Trump’s order halted for 120 days all refugees from entering the country, and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from entering. (On Sunday, the White House reversed its earlier inclusion of green card holders from the countries listed in the executive order.) The president also ordered that Christian immigrants from Muslim countries, and others practicing minority religions in those countries, receive priority over Muslim immigrants.

The president said his order would give the government time to tighten the vetting of foreigners to prevent possible terrorists from entering the United States. Critics argue that the ban exempts the nations that produced the 9/11 hijackers, as well as some countries where Trump does business. They also say that that vetting is already rigorous, that no citizen from the seven targeted nations has killed any Americans on US soil since 9/11, and that the order violates American immigration law preventing discrimination based on national origin.

The ban unleashed global chaos over the weekend, as academics connected to schools across the United States and other travelers were detained or turned away at airports. Among the fallout locally, scholars bound for Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital could not get in, two Iranian scholars at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth were detained for three hours at Logan International Airport Saturday before being released, and an Iranian student at the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology was forbidden to return to school from her home country.

News reports say other affected schools ranged from Yale on the East Coast to Stanford on the West.

The New York federal judge who halted deportations did not allow those detained to enter the country, nor did she rule on the ban’s constitutionality, which will be considered during challenges filed by, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union.

A rally, organized by BU students, against Trump’s immigration order and other policies, including his proposed wall along the Mexican border, is scheduled for today, Monday, January 30, on Marsh Plaza at 3 p.m.

Originally published at www.bu.edu.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts and on Instagram at @buexperts.

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