Trump’s Immigration Policies bring worry to Stony Brook students

Before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Stony Brook University students saw 29-year-old Vahideh Rasekhi’s name in posters and flyers, announcing projects by the Graduate Student Organization. They might of also seen her in class or walking around campus.

In late January, news organizations across the country also knew Rasekhi’s name, once she became one of the thousands affected by the temporary ban put in place by President Trump’s administration that tried to deport people from several Muslim-majority countries entering the United States.

Raseskhi had left to see her family back in Iran, but when she returned to JFK, she was held for more than 24 hours before finally being released. She is just one of about 5,000 students at Stony Brook who came to learn from another country.

Rasekhi declined to comment on the incident.

It was the timing of this scenario and other situations like it, that is putting student immigration within the U.S under intense scrutiny. Now data only recently released shows that more prospective students from countries around the world are becoming more hesitant to study at colleges and universities in the United States.

Applications to American colleges were down nearly 40 percent from areas like China, India and the Middle East, according to a recent survey that included 250 institutions sent out by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The study’s officials point to fear of safety in the U.S after President Trump’s attempts to institute a travel ban and limitations of travel of people from several Middle Eastern countries, as well as new perceived rhetoric coming from both the White House and citizens that points to a cooling attitude towards immigrants.

Stony Brook University ranks fifth among New York universities in terms of the number of foreign students enrolled, according to the Institute of International Education. As of 2016, Stony Brook plays host to 5,609 international students, the majority of whom come from China, Korea and India.

Stony Brook’s J-1 Scholars, divided up by their country of origin.Stony Brook University, which attracts students from different countries, has students come from countries that have differing political opinions and positions. Even with this different political positions some students have an understanding of current events in America.

“Since 2012 to 2015, I watched news on the web for about 1.5 to 2 hrs everyday, and the outlets include actually MSNBC, FOX, and Al Jazeera,” Business major Daniel Seho Park, who had arrived in the U.S from South Korea this semester said. “I chose different outlets as I wanted to compare and contrast their viewpoints in the same news.”

He would watch those three different news outlets for approximately 30 minutes each day to gain an understanding of news that would push past partisanship.

Park has several friends that also pay attention to American politics, but also several who don’t. He sees many different reasons why an international student might pay attention to politics.

“Firstly, to study English. Second, to know what’s going on around the world which could also impact their life here in the States. Third, they follow the news when the news involve somethings they are interested in. Fourth, to be able to participate in communications or conversations with people here in the states,” Park said.

Not all international students are as completely up to date with politics as Park, but many have seen the impact of current events on other immigrants or visa holders. Their ideology is not only based off of politics in their own countries, but also the events that they have heard of, and experienced.

Pie chart of a survey taken at Stony Brook University of students’ comfort living in the United States under Donald Trump.

20 year-old mathematics major Helene Ge arrived at Stony Brook from Brazil. She said she was uncomfortable about being in the U.S under the current administration, and was concerned of what would happen if she left then came back.

“Just thinking about the troubles I may have just by going back to my hometown and back to U.S to study,” Ge said in a survey.

21-year-old health science major Raahima Bukhari from the United Arab Emirates also felt very uncomfortable with the current administration because of, “the idea that if I leave for summer/winter break to see my family, I might not be able to come back and complete my degree.”

Some international students who understand the political system in their own countries will point out the problems that exist in either system. 21-year-old Biology major Alejandro Gil came to Stony Brook from Spain, and he sees the U.S as somewhat monolithic. “America is a very singular country, you only have two parties. Both parties have been involved in so many corruption scandals, and business also interferes with [American] politics.”

Spain has 10 political parties represented in Congress, and many more than that represented in more regional governments. Gomez compared Spain to the U.S in other ways, such as the U.S’ large population of prisoners, as well as their restrictions in voting.

“People in the U.S have such restrictions to vote. Like in the U.S, prisoners can’t vote. This country has such a big problem with mass incarceration. I feel the U.S has much more restrictions on voting,” Gomez said.

Even if students might disagree with the current administration policies, their feelings of safety aren’t necessarily affected.

20-year-old political science major, Javin Aryan, from India, said that there was a good amount of inexperience with the current administration, and that “apart from a very small group of people being misguided by President Trump’s words, and acting out, the foundation of the US is strong enough to survive one (or even two) tumultuous presidencies.”

While 18-year-old linguistics major Yilin Zhao from China feels negatively towards the U.S’ current immigration policy, he said “I would feel uncomfortable if his policies affect my rights and studies in the states, but so far I have not felt largely affected.”

20-year-old biology major Jiatong (Zoe) Zhang from China felt neutral about the election of the current administration “because the policy he makes so far does not really affect my daily life.”

Now that Park is living in the U.S, he also likes to listen to podcasts throughout the day. That does not include the news outlets he reads to keep up to date on news out of South Korea. He started this voracious appetite for news because he wanted to learn how to speak English in a way that sounded natural, but now he keeps up with the news to feel connected.

“Later there was another reason; I liked stacking up the history of events in my knowledges since I always felt I have the globe in my hands.”