Immigration ban weighs on campus community

Graphic by Carrie Clowers '18 

Graphic by Carrie Clowers '18 


President Trump's recent executive order on immigration has barred citizens from the Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days. Refugee admission from these countries has been suspended for 120 days, while Syrian refugees have been barred from entering the United States for an unspecified period of time. 28 percent of Mount Holyoke's student body is made up of international students – many of whom are from the Middle East. This executive order will greatly impact the ability of many of these international students' ability to return home and travel. 

Mount Holyoke hasinternational students from Syria and Yemen, and others who are from different Muslim-majority countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, according to the college's website. Thus, due to the immigration executive order, many international students from the affected countries say they are wary to return home for the holidays and summer break. 

Student Government Association President Marwa Mikati '17 expressed her own concerns, as a student from Lebanon, and the concerns of other international students from Muslim-majority countries.

"This [ban] has already caused changes in the willingness of these students to go home for the summer or the holidays," said Mikati. With commencementin the near future, a new worry exists for graduating seniors that they will have a difficult time getting their parents to Mount Holyoke for the ceremony, in addition to worries about what life will hold for them after Mount Holyoke. 

"There is a general fear in graduating seniors who fall under this criteria that their parents would not make it to graduation," explained Mikati. "There are fears about jobs and whether companies will become less willing to hire international students. There is a lot of uncertainty and not too many answers."

In an email sent out to the Mount Holyoke community on Jan. 28, acting president Sonya Stephens expressed her own concern over the executive order's impact on Mount Holyoke.

 "The impact of this executive order is both far-reaching and chilling, as well as completely at odds with our mission to educate for purposeful engagement in the world," she said.

 Stephens also affirmed the College's dedication to the protection of international students by stating that "more than a quarter of our students come to the College from outside the United States, and the excellence of our teaching and scholarship is predicated on global understanding and perspectives, and the freedom of movement, thought, religion and speech." 

In a later email sent out to the Mount Holyoke community, Stephens urged those at risk under the executive order to contact Mount Holyoke's immigration advisor, Jennifer Medina.

Following the executive order, many on campus have criticized Stephens for failing to establish a sanctuary campus at Mount Holyoke.

The concept of a sanctuary campus is modeled on that of a sanctuary city, which CNN states is a "broad term applied to jurisdictions that have policies in place designed to limit cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement actions. Cities, counties and some states have a range of informal policies as well as actual laws that qualify as `sanctuary' positions. Most of the policies center around not cooperating with federal law enforcement on immigration policies. Many of the largest cities in the country have forms of such policies."

According to the American Bar Association website, it's unclear whether colleges and universities that establish sanctuary campuses would be at risk of losing their federal funding. María Blanco, the executive director of the University of California Undocumented Legal Services Center, provided the ABA with a possible solution. Blanco said that denying U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers access to campus without a warrant, changing university or college policy to "state that its police force won't enforce immigration law on behalf of federal agents" and denying ICE requests for student information which would reveal an individual's immigration status are all effective ways of establishing a sanctuary campus without risking the loss of federal funds.

Eva Paus, the director of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, called President Trump's executive order on immigration "unethical, inhumane, a rebuke to core values of this country and likely to feed into the hands of terrorists." Paus said that the McCulloch center has been following the order closely. "We have been in ongoing touch with international students and our immigration lawyers and will continue to provide all needed support."

The purpose of this executive order, according to the full text, is to protect the American people through "detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States." The executive order further states "In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law."

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the Department of Homeland Security said on Sunday that green card holders from the seven targeted countries would not be impacted by the executive order, meaning they would be able to return to the United States. 

After the order was signed by President Trump on Friday afternoon, travelers from the seven countries and refugees from across the globe were stopped at airports worldwide. Some were blocked from entering the United States, others were forced to return overseas and many were detained at U.S. airports. The American Civil Liberties Union estimated that about 100-200 people who had legal authorization to enter prior to the signing of the order have been detained at airports. 

The executive order has prompted protests across the nation-–both at airports and in cities across the country. On Saturday evening, a federal judge from Brooklyn blocked part of President Trump's order, stating that travelers being held at U.S. airports should not be sent back to their home countries. The judge was asked by the ACLU to intervene in the case of two Iraqis detained at JFK airport, and the two men were ordered to be released as a result of her intervention. Similar rulings were issued soon after by federal judges in Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington. 

There also remains uncertainty as to whether or not the executive order on immigration will be extended to include other countries – most likely in the Middle East. 

The Five College area has already seen the impact of this executive order at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst: one undergraduate student and one graduate student (both from Iran) as well as a visiting scholar from Syria have been unable to reenter the United States as a result of the signing of the executive order. According to the statement released by UMass, the university has a total of 77 Iranian nationals under immigration sponsorship, two graduate students from Syria and one graduate student from Sudan.

Many are wondering what the ramifications will be here at Mount Holyoke, especially for international students. 

Nada Al-Thawr '19 is from Yemen, one of the targeted countries in the executive order. "As an international student coming from Yemen," explained Al-Thawr, "I will not be able to travel back home at all if this persists, or even leave the US until I graduate. I am very upset about the fact that I won't be able to travel home this summer. I was looking forward to it." 

What concerned Al-Thawr most about the executive order, beyond her inability to travel back home, was the impact it may have on her home country of Yemen. "I am very concerned about the indications that this might have for the future of Yemen and Yemeni people, not only here but also in Yemen. I am worried about the hostility Yemeni people might face as being seen as terrorist or unwanted."

Assistant professor of Latinx & Latin American Studies, David Hernández, shared Al-Thawr's concern of the executive order having far-reaching effects beyond solely within the United States. "This is far more than imposing `inconvenience' on a subset of people bearing the burdens of the president's political objectives," stated Hernandez. "The executive orders permit, and perhaps encourage, lawful discrimination and overreach –which the mayhem, coercion and haphazard enforcement created by the Muslim/immigrant ban over the weekend demonstrate." 

During Senate on Jan. 31, Jennifer Medina, Mount Holyoke's immigration advisor, and Donna Van Handle '74, the dean of international students, discussed and answered questions regarding the executive order. They also disclosed that although this is a difficult and unnerving time, many have reached out to support Mount Holyoke and its students and community members impacted by the executive order. Medina said, "It's been amazing, since these executive orders have come through, how many alums, faculty, staff, current parents and Seven Sisters alumnae we've heard from saying `if you have a student who cannot go home for those reasons or they're worried, we'll put them up for the summer."

Mikati also noted what she hopes Mount Holyoke will do for the members of the community impacted by the executive order. "I hope the school offers up a list of resources including immigration specialists, attorneys, as well as alums who are willing to host students over breaks if they are not able to make it back home. I hope that Mount Holyoke sustains its commitment to recruit students from that region. I also hope that the students who fall under any of the categories I mention are cared for and offered support both in MHC and for their plans after graduation."