On Friday, Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning admission of all refugees for 120 days and Syrian refugees indeterminately as a part of his administration’s “extreme vetting” initiative.
The executive order called for the suspension of the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, a drop in the number of refugees accepted into the US from 110,000 to 50,000 in 2017, the ending of visas to Syrian nationals and a three-month ban applied to seven nations: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya.
Student Assistant Network Engineer Abdulrahman Zaiter said he is the only Syrian student enrolled at SVSU and that the executive order acts like a wall between him and the ability to leave the United States, which would keep his other visa valid so he can visit his family in Kuwait.
“My Kuwaiti visa will be invalidated, and I literally have no place to go back to after graduation except Syria, which is not an option for me,” he said. “My hometown is in Aleppo and it is the center of conflicts between all sides that are participating in the war, including Russia, ISIS, and the regime.”
SVSU President Donald Bachand released a statement to the campus community which detailed how the university will handle changes in law and how it will continue to support the international community.
On the statement’s content, Bachand said that he thought the executive order, as it relates to SVSU, needed some clarification, as there are many points of view on campus. And, he said long before he issued the public statement, he was in contact with congressional offices and immigration lawyers to try to get a sense of what the executive order meant and how it was being interpreted.
“My primary interest was not writing a statement to the University about something I knew nothing about,” he said. “My primary interest was acting in the best interest of the students we have … I have very friendly relations with all kinds of international students because this is a very welcoming environment.”
The reaction to the tone of the statement, Bachand said, was due to how others had interpreted the executive order and what affect they thought it was going to have on students.
“It’s amazing to me how people interpret the release that I made,” he said. “They concluded that I was trying to communicate something that never ever entered my mind. They concluded that, because I didn’t say ‘these words’, I meant this ‘this’. And, it’s just the way it is.”
He added, “I look at our students and I look at the information I have in front of me and I can start the statement based on all the information I have. That’s what I thought was the appropriate statement. It doesn’t mean that I’m not opposed to discriminatory rhetoric towards Muslims. It doesn’t mean that at all. I am opposed to all manner of discrimination.”
President of Michigan State University Lou Anna Simon responded to President Trump’s executive order via a letter to the college community and expressed her and other colleague’s alarm and concern.
“I join my AAU colleagues and other higher education leaders in expressing our concerns regarding the collateral damage caused by this action and calling for a quick end to the order,” she stated. “We must protect our borders, but we also must ensure we do not stem the flow of people of goodwill who come and work to make this nation better.”
SVSU Director of International Graduate Admission Jenna Briggs said, from an office standpoint, the executive order impacts their ability to recruit from the seven countries banned from the U.S. She said that while none of the countries are a main focus area for recruitment, students still enroll from those areas and come to the University.
“Right now it only impacts a small number of students who are from the seven countries outlined in the executive order,” she said. “They are here legally as students, but it impacts their ability to re-enter the U.S. if they travel abroad.”
Executive orders have had a long and storied history in the United States, with some administrations using the power sparsely while others have used it hundreds or even thousands of times.
Former President Barack Obama, for example, signed 277 during his presidency, which included environmental orders that increased fuel economy standards and tougher emission restrictions. He also signed orders in favor of abortion rights, freezing senior executive branch pay and funding for Palestinian refugees.
Meanwhile, President Gerald Ford signed only 169, compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt who signed 3,721, and Woodrow Wilson who signed 1,803 Executive Orders.
Briggs said students from any one of the seven countries on the banned list should avoid traveling outside of the U.S. until the ban is over. She also said other students should be encouraged to show compassion and kindness while the ban is in place.
“I think our campus community does that anyway, but maybe make a special effort now to check in with each other,” she said. “From conversations our staff has had, we know there is some general anxiety and a lot of questions within our international student population and that’s understandable.”
Some Americans have responded negatively to the executive order and protests began at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and at a courthouse in Brooklyn soon after the order was signed by President Trump.
Moreover, Brooklyn U.S. District Court Judge Ann Donnelly put a stay on the ban, which somewhat blocked President Trump’s order for a short time and allowed those who had already landed in the US with a valid visa to stay.
Several lawsuits have been filed in multiple states as well, including New York, Virginia and Washington, with parties attached to the cases from the ACLU, National Immigration Law Center and the Legal Aid Justice Center.
Bachand said the President’s Office is monitoring information sites so students can receive the best possible information available, and they are staying in contact with the International Programs Office to help affected students on a more individual basis.
“I can assure you and the rest of the students, faculty and administration at SVSU that we’re doing everything we can to understand what’s going on and to provide good advice for our students and to keep the university community abreast of what’s going on,” he said.
Zaiter said that Syrian, Muslim and Middle Eastern students have more to offer the world than just being perceived as individuals who are impacted by an executive order. That is, he said, he believes the academic successes, local and international recognition, productive community work and projects that have been completed by foreign students should be emphasized first.
“We are asking people to be understanding as to what are we going through, and make humane and just judgments to the racist acts that are initialized by notable entities in the country,” Zaiter said. “As a human, I don’t want to be seen as a person who is seeking empathy. Being a hardworking, ambitious and active person is what really identifies me as a whole. As such, I can achieve what any other successful people could achieve regardless of my nationality, religion or orientation.”