University President Mark Schlissel released a statement June 26 condemning the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban on seven countries, the majority of which are predominantly Muslim.
In the response, Schlissel wrote the University is proud to be one of more than 30 American universities to have filed a joint amicus brief, or legal document submitted by non-litigants, with the Supreme Court regarding the travel ban. Filed in March, the brief argues the travel ban prevents institutions from recruiting talented international scholars.
Schlissel also wrote the University’s international population, comprising students from 128 countries, enriches the institution culturally and academically.
“Diminishing the quality and breadth of our academic community will threaten the aspirations for peace and prosperity we all share,” Schlissel wrote. “We will continue to admit students in a manner consistent with our non-discrimination policy, and to those who have earned their place here, we remain committed to fostering an environment where all can flourish.”
According to Donya Khadem, a co-director of the Michigan Immigration and Labor Law Association, the travel ban is troubling because international students are a crucial part of the University community for a variety of reasons.
“There are roughly, I think, a million international students in the U.S. at colleges and universities and they add not only to the intellectual value of our country, but they also add a lot to the economic product of the university,” Khadem said. “They pay money to come, so the school is affected not only by being not able to recruit enough talent when this happens, but also financially.”
Khadem also said international faculty are a valuable asset to institutions of higher education because their backgrounds can enhance their teaching.
Schlissel was one of the first university presidents to respond to the initial executive order, signed by Trump in January 2017, that blocked travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. He maintained the University would only release immigration status information when required by federal law and emphasized the University’s commitment to supporting students regardless of their immigration status.
LSA senior Yezeñia Sandoval, the external director of Latino student organization La Casa, shared with The Daily an official statement she wrote on behalf of La Casa in response to the travel ban. In the statement, Sandoval praised Schlissel for committing to not releasing immigration status unless absolutely necessary, but said the University can still improve in terms of inclusion.
“While firmly believing significant works remains to create access, equity, and inclusion for the communities impacted by the actions of the current federal administration, La Casa is proud of the public remarks and the decision of President Schlissel to not release the immigration status of students in wake of the travel ban,” Sandoval wrote. “Our University’s stance is an important victory for communities on campus who must continuously fight for the rights of their families and friends amid a broken immigration system that has only made more discriminatory bans fueled by hate.”
Also commenting on Schlissel’s most recent response to the travel ban, Khadem said it’s important for the University to formally respond to issues in immigration policy, but it must take concrete action as well.
“It’s really important for universities to at least say something and recognize the issue, but I don’t think that that’s enough, and that’s what frustrates a lot of law students and people in general that are activists,” Khadem said. “It’s another thing to make sure that you’re working with student groups to provide resources.”
Khadem said the University is home to many student activists interested in immigration policy. MILLA is currently collaborating with the Muslim Law Students Association, another organization in which Khadem is involved, to increase awareness of how the travel ban affects students and to foster law students’ interest in immigration-related issues. Khadem added many law students volunteer with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, organize rallies or work with immigrants in the Dearborn area.
Student organizations have engaged in outreach in response to recent immigration policy developments. According to Khadem, MLSA drafted a letter the day of the travel ban decision, and over 40 student organizations have signed on. The letter, which is now circulating the University, denounces the travel ban and outlines the Law School’s plans to counter the ruling.
“It’s critical now more than ever that we take seriously any opportunities to engage in pro bono and advocacy efforts that support Muslim and other immigrant communities,” the letter reads. “In the coming weeks, MLSA will work hard to find opportunities for the Michigan Law community, and greater University community, to engage in efforts to dismantle the ban. We will work with the Office of Student Life, the Pro Bono Board, and other ally organizations to connect interested students with opportunities and resources.”
Since the travel ban decision, Khadem and her peers have spoken to the Law School dean and dean of student life, emphasizing the importance of creating a welcoming campus climate for students affected by the ban and reminding the administrators of the University’s commitment to not sharing immigration status unless warranted by federal law. She also said her student organizations are currently directing their efforts toward increasing tolerance.
“I think there’s a lot of back and forth right now, even among the Law School student orgs, about the difference between the legal reasoning in the decision and its effects,” Khadem said. “Our biggest concern at MILLA and MLSA is the stigma that arises from it because decisions like this, to some people in the world, will allow them to feel that some groups are second-class citizens or that they’re problematic on their faith.”