International students and faculty weigh in on Trump’s travel restrictions

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 7:34pm

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Illustration by Jacob Bergen

Faculty and graduate students have recently responded with personal and professional concerns to President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The order, met with much opposition at the University of Michigan and nationally upon its signing on Jan. 27, sparks questions as to who will and will not be able to travel in and out of the United States. It also prevents refugees from entering the country for at least 120 days.

Amal Fadlalla, a women’s studies associate professor, is originally from Sudan — one of the banned countries — but is a naturalized U.S. citizen. She is currently on sabbatical.

In an email to the Daily, Fadlalla noted that restrictions like this order “are not new.”

“After 9/11, most of these countries, mentioned in the new ban, were under heavy restrictions,” she wrote. “This ban made these restrictions harsher and more visible.  For instance, whereas citizens from these specified countries entering the U.S. were subject to thorough questioning and investigation, now they may be denied visas or entry all together.”

Fadlalla said she used to experience questioning at the border because of her Sudanese citizenship. Once she received a green card and, later, U.S. citizenship, the questions became more mild. Agents would merely ask her where she was going, and what she was doing there. She said it helps to be affiliated with the University of Michigan.

Fadlalla referenced a New York Times article from Friday, citing that up to 60,000 people from the seven banned countries have had their visas revoked since the order’s implementation.

She also added that green-card holders and citizens from the banned countries may now be subject to more questioning than in the past.

On the national level, several lawsuits have been filed against the order. In Seattle, U.S. District Judge James Robart temporarily blocked the ban on Friday, deciding the ban would do more harm than good until a full case could be heard, according to NPR. Ann Donnelly, a federal judge from Brooklyn who is a University of Michigan alum, is among the judges who issued a stay on the ban.

With these measures in place, there is still uncertainty as to what happens next. Fadlallah wrote that the order should be made clearer so professionals from the banned areas who may be interested in coming to the United States, as well as those who are employed in the United States but are working in the banned areas, will know whether they will be admitted.

"Well, this (executive order) is creating so much panic and uncertainty for scholars, students, and professionals because things are so vague and unclear at the moment,” Fadlalla wrote. “Maybe further explanation and clarification will make it helpful for those of us who study or work in these regions.”

To address related concerns, the Middle East Studies Association, a national organization, issued a statement for faculty and students at higher-education institutions across the country.

“We condemn this Executive Order, which is discriminatory and does damage to academic institutions in the United States,” it reads.

The statement claims there have been conflicting guidelines as to the order’s impact on green-card holders. It also calls for continued support from colleges and universities.

“Academic institutions should prepare to make accommodations for students, staff and faculty affected by this suspension of entry and closely follow changes in the interpretation of the Order as legal challenges and agency reinterpretations continue to unfold,” it reads.

University President Mark Schlissel’s statement — signed immediately after the release of the executive order — affirms the University’s refusal to disclose the immigration statuses of students, in addition to its support of the international community.

In an interview with the Daily at the end of January, Schlissel said the University has been keeping up with related developments.

“Like the whole nation, we’re following very carefully — things that are changing quite quickly, they change by the hour sometimes,” he said. “We have staff keeping very close watch so we know what the situation is and we can best advise members of our community.”

In the same interview, Schlissel emphasized the importance of the contributions of immigrants at the University.

“The reason I really wanted to speak up with clarity is I don’t necessarily think many people appreciate how international — not just our university — but all the great universities are,” he said. “We have students from over 100 countries around the globe. The idea of excluding a significant fraction of the world as being potential members of our community, I think would hurt us.”

In response, Fadlallah wrote that she felt the University has responded to the executive order appropriately.

“Yes protecting our students and scholars who work in these areas is necessary,” she wrote. “I am very proud that the president and the institution stand behind its inclusive values of making connections and strengthening its global reach.”

Khaled Mattawa, an associate English professor at the University, is originally from Libya — another banned country. He immigrated to the United States in 1979 at the age of 14 and became a citizen in 1996. He wrote in an email interview that he travels to the Middle East often. He is currently on leave in Egypt.  

In his email, Mattawa wrote, as citizens, he and his family are not affected by the executive order. However, he expects to be interrogated upon returning to the United States.

He said the new regulations seem to point to the beginning of a “war against immigrants” — those who are naturalized and those who are not.

“As to my concerns, they run deep. I feel that these new regulations — I’m sure these are not the last word(s) on this matter — are part of an attempt to fundamentally change the United States, not only in its racial make-up but in its structure as a democracy,” he wrote. “Taken under guidance from Alt-Right White supremacists, this policy aims to bring an end to all immigration from Non-White countries.”

He noted that since 1965, the country has had a non-discriminatory policy regarding immigration, making it the most diverse nation in the world — something that has benefited both the country and him personally.

However, he wrote that he believes the White House now supports a racist vision, particularly against Muslims, and he foresees a divide in citizenship.

“I foresee the creation (of) two kinds of citizenship whereby citizens from Muslim countries and other brown folks become second-class citizens,” he wrote. “The second step is perhaps to deny entry visas, and certainly citizenship, to all non-Whites ... You begin with Muslims because they’re the easiest target and you move down the list of undesirables. Yes, it’s a war against Muslims, but it’s racism pure and simple.”

Mattawa wrote that Egyptian scholars, even those whose nations are not affected by the executive order, are concerned. He said they, and those whose nations are on the list, will not come to the United States.

“Scholars from the current banned nations will seek to do research elsewhere,” he said. “And those who are already here will seek to leave to places that offer them hospitality and security.”

Mattawa feels there is no reason to limit immigration and the executive order is addressing a problem that is nonexistent.

“There’s no economic reason to limit immigration to the extent that the Trump administration is calling for,” he wrote. “And there’s no security reason whatsoever behind Trump’s executive order. Hardly any immigrant from the countries mentioned in this list has committed terrorism; their involvement in crime is almost nonexistent.”

Mattawa wrote that the immigrants who come to the United States “tend to be the best, most equipped and most ambitious individuals in the world” — echoing Schlissel’s claim. He said they are people who enter the United States economic system and receive no financial support from citizens.  

Sheira Cohen is a Rackham student and graduate student instructor from New Zealand. She is helping the Graduate Employees’ Organization negotiate a new contract with the University. Cohen specifically helped construct a proposal to protect graduate student working hours.  

Under student visas — licenses which most international GSIs have — people cannot work more than 20 hours each week. However, by the University’s current contract, supervisors can require more than 20 hours of work from graduate student instructors. The proposal asks to change this regulation to protect students from violating their visas.

“One of the things I think that makes it imperative in the current climate is that there are increasing amounts of attention being paid to students on visas — trying to find ways to take those away and especially scrutiny at the border by border officials,” she said. “If the University says that they want us and that they protect us, in response (to) the executive orders, this is a concrete way that they can do that.”

Cohen said she thinks the executive order will heighten the proposal’s urgency and the importance during its negotiations.

She said she was asked how many hours she worked at the Canadian border, and so she can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be for international students who are not white, or from Western countries.

She said the gap in the contract makes international students vulnerable at borders, and adjusting it would be a way for the University to support international students given the current immigration climate.