Chaos as stranded students, faculty wait to return home

Executive order temporarily bans immigration and visitors from seven countries

Students and faculty members are stranded in airports after President Trump signed an executive order Friday placing temporary bans on entry to the United States for individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries.

President Trump framed the executive order as the fulfillment of his campaign promise to suspend visa processing for individuals from certain countries "that have a history of exporting terrorism" until more "extreme vetting" measures can be put in place.

The executive order:

  • Blocks individuals from seven countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—from entering the United States for 90 days;
  • Suspends all refugee entry for 120 days;
  • Suspends Syrian refugee resettlement indefinitely;
  • Cuts in half the total number of refugees permitted to enter in 2017; and
  • Prioritizes entry for "religious minorities."

A federal judge on Saturday issued a temporary stay on a portion of the order, ruling that refugees or visa holders held at U.S. airports under the policy could not be deported. Litigation is still ongoing.

The next day, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly said in a statement that in applying the order, he deemed "the entry of lawful permanent residents"—green card holders—"to be in the national interest." He added, "absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations."

Chaos ensued at airports worldwide over the weekend as people were detained and passengers were blocked from boarding flights to the United States. Law enforcement officials initially expressed significant confusion about how to correctly implement the order, for example, whether it applied to individuals who hold green cards. Crowds of protestors descended on at least 10 U.S. airports, according to CNN.

Those who were detained—or stranded outside the United States—include students and faculty members of U.S. colleges.

For example, the University of Massachusetts reported Sunday that two faculty members were detained at Logan Airport in Boston for three hours, despite being lawful permanent residents. The president of the graduate student union at the Stony Brook University, linguistics Ph.D. student Vahideh Rasekhi, was detained at Kennedy Airport in New York for more than 24 hours.

While many people are stranded in airports or countries outside the United States, others are stuck within the borders, including 17,000 international students from affected nations. They fear that if they leave the country for any reason, they will be unable to return. 

International enrollment is likely to slow down under Trump, experts say

International services directors from several universities told the Chronicle of Higher Education they spent the weekend fielding calls and emails from colleagues, academic departments, and anxious students.

Robin Catmur, director of international student and scholar services at the University of Georgia, says one of her Iranian student's parents were among those denied visas. The student hasn't seen her family for more than two years.

Jeff Cox, international student services director at the Rochester Institute of Technology, says he and his staff plan to show solidarity with affected students over the next few days by attending events organized by international student associations and Muslim student groups.

Some international services directors say they are recommending students not leave the country, while others say they plan to inform students of the potential consequences but refrain from making recommendations.

The ban could also create difficulties for international students admitted to U.S. colleges for the fall 2017 term, says Terry W. Hartle, SVP at the American Council on Education.

"They'd need to get a new visa by August, and obviously new visas are going to be frozen for 90 days," Hartle told Inside Higher Ed.

Dana Strait, an expert on enrollment at EAB, says the regulations pose "a significant threat to some institutions’ financial stability." She points to Australia as a case study: "They instituted similarly aggressive visa regulations in 2007. This was followed by a series of racially motivated incidents on Australian campuses and together they damaged the perception of Australian higher ed abroad—resulting in a 71% decline in Indian student attendance and the loss of significant revenue opportunities between the years of 2007 and 2011."

Related: 17 best practices for supporting international students 

Leaders representing several higher education organizations criticized the executive order over the weekend, including:

  • NAFSA: Association of International Educators;
  • American Anthropological Association [statement];
  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities [statement];
  • Association of American Universities [statement];
  • Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities [statement];
  • Cornell University [statement];
  • Harrisburg Area Community College [statement];
  • Harvard University [statement];
  • University of California [statement];
  • Association of Public and Land-grant Universities;
  • and more.

By Monday morning, more than 7,000 academics, including 40 Nobel laureates, have signed a petition characterizing the ban as discriminatory and harmful to U.S. national interest.

Colleges should consider the following steps to support affected students, according to Richard LeBaron, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, and Jessica Ashooh, deputy director of the council's task force on Middle East strategy:

  • Provide emotional support to affected students, such as through counseling services;
  • If your institution has international connections, match stranded students with local hosts;
  • Connect affected students with legal advisors;
  • Plan accommodations for international students who will be unable to go home for breaks;
  • Create distance learning options for students stranded abroad;
  • Help students relocate to branch campuses abroad, if your institution has them; and
  • Consider creating a consortia with an institution that does have a branch campus.

(Lind/Prokop, Vox, 1/28; Redden, Inside Higher Ed, 1/30; Yuhas, The Guardian, 1/30; Grinberg/Park, CNN, 1/30; Bauman et al., Newsday, 1/29; Fain, Inside Higher Ed, 1/30; Fischer, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/29; LeBaron/Ashooh, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/29; Brown/Watkins, CNN, 1/29).

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