After President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive orders halted travel to and from seven Muslim-majority countries, members of the campus community responded. President Valerie Smith and administrative deans reasserted the college’s vow to protect all students and faculty by standing in firm opposition to the anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policies. International and Muslim students affected by the orders have sought advice from administration, and have had to alter plans and make new ones in response to the travel restrictions.
Muslim Students Association board member Yusuf Qaddura ’20 had planned on returning to his home in Lebanon over the summer. But following the orders, Qaddura realized this might not be possible. He said that with the heightened risk of traveling to the Middle East on a nonimmigrant visa, he will likely have to stay in the United States.
“I’m okay with not going back to my home country,” he expressed. “I’ll get used to it … even if it comes to not going back in the next three years.”
With the question of whether he will be able to go home at the end of the semester looming over him, Qaddura has had to apply to summer internships and jobs late in the application season.
“I’m now stressed because I have all sorts of applications over my head,” he expressed.
The anti-immigration orders, according to the New York Times, affect people who are currently in the U.S. on temporary visas and would normally be able to travel back home and re-enter the country. The order entails a 90-day suspension of immigrant and nonimmigrant admission from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen into the U.S. Although a federal judge in Seattle ruled to suspend the orders on Jan. 31, President Trump has since appealed the decision, according to reports by CNN. This means an uncertain future for students like Qaddura.
“We’re concerned about whether the ban is going to be extended after three months, or if it’s going to be extended into more countries,” Qaddura said.
In an official statement emailed to staff and students on Jan. 30, President Valerie Smith affirmed the college’s commitment to ensuring the safety of all members of the community in times of increased threat. She outlined a series of measures the college has taken, led by the Office of International Student Services, to reach out to affected students and faculty.
International students services director Jennifer Marks-Gold summarized these measures over email. According to Marks-Gold, OISS has investigated student lists to determine if any students are in the banned countries. At this time, there are no incoming or enrolled students either residing or studying abroad in the seven countries.
“OISS has and will continue to advise and support students about staying safe,” Marks-Gold stated.
She also affirmed that OISS will work to provide housing for students who cannot go home over breaks and during the summer as one initiative to support students affected by the ban.
“While [these students] are barred from travel, we encourage them to keep in contact with their family and friends back home and if we can help them do that in anyway, our office will provide these services,” Marks-Gold continued.
Qaddura hopes that the administration will do more to assist the unique situations of international students in the coming months.
“From what I’ve heard, I’m just being treated like any other student trying to get housing this summer,” he said.
Marks-Gold reasserted the college’s pledge to be a sanctuary for all members of the community.
She affirmed that the college will not disclose the immigration status of students and faculty members.
“We do not have to release information unless a warrant/subpoena is issued. We will continue to protect our students at all times,” Marks-Gold stated.
Colleges and universities across the country have come out with similar statements, reassuring campus members that they will refuse to disclose such information. The University of Michigan, for example, made headlines on Jan. 28 when it announced its intention to maintain the privacy of this information.
On the evening of Thursday, Feb. 2, students and faculty packed into the Intercultural Center for a panel discussion for Swatties affected by the anti-immigration orders. The panel was one initiative of the college to support members of the community affected by the orders.
The panel, composed of Muslim student advisor Umar Abdul Rahman, associate professor of sociology Lee Smithey, and Philadelphia area immigration attorney John Vandenberg, addressed a number of issues on a spectrum from technical to personal, covering topics such as H-1B sponsorship and the impact of the orders on the Muslim community.
Vandenberg urged international students to contact OISS with concerns, and remarked on the climate of unease surrounding their situations.
“I can’t tell you not to be anxious … If I were in the shoes of international students, I’d think, ‘why now?’,” he said.
At the discussion, Vandenberg briefed attendees on the ban and the subsequent judicial decision to block it. He also overviewed the process of obtaining an H-1B visa for non-immigrant students hoping to work in the United States. He explained that immigration law changes faster than any other area of law, so he predicts that there will likely be changes to the H-1B program during the Trump administration. He urged international students to speak with Marks-Gold to ensure that they apply for employment authorization and visas on time.
“It’s kind of a brave new world we’re living in now,” Vandenberg said, acknowledging the partisan overtones of the ban, which have stemmed from a major shift in the political agenda under a new administration.
Smithey expressed a similar view.
“We really don’t know where we’re at in this moment on the technical side of things and on political, racial, and ethnic fronts,” he remarked.
Even so, Smithey urged students to protest. He cited a statistic from Dr. Erica Chenoweth and Dr. Maria J. Stephan’s book, “Why Civil Resistance” Works that claims only three and a half percent of a population engaged in nonviolent civil resistance is required to overthrow a regime, a figure equivalent to 11 million Americans. In his opinion, one important route to opposing the executive orders is through large-scale peaceful protest.
“This is a mobilization and organization problem,” Smithey said, arguing that an authoritarian administration can be reined in through strategic nonviolent resistance.
Rahman elaborated on the new administration’s treatment of Muslims and immigrants.
“What’s really troublesome is the rhetoric,” he observed, referring to President Trump’s comments about Islam.
Rahman spoke on the parallels between Muslim oppression and other forms of oppression throughout American history, encouraging attendees to read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
“There can be some discriminatory policies…equal protection doesn’t apply to immigrants,” Rahman noted, arguing that the nature of immigration policy in the U.S. has allowed for implicit discrimination against Muslims in this most recent policy.
Vandenberg echoed this sentiment.
“I do feel comfortable calling it a Muslim ban,” he said with regards to the executive order.
Qaddura believes the ban is a symptom of a broader misconception of Islam.
“These terrorists groups are not representing the true essence of the Islamic religion,” he stated, noting the widespread misunderstanding of the Islamic practice of jihad. “The Islamic religion tries to spread peace and love.”
Qaddura has found a space through the Muslim Students Association to gather with others in this tumultuous time.
“MSA is like a home for Muslim students on campus … we speak with each other, calm each other emotionally,” he said.
Smithey noted the psychological function of large protests and gatherings for building confidence and mitigating anxiety through collective action.
“Figuring out ways to manage our fear is going to be immensely important,” he stressed.
For many, the difficulty of returning home will come at too great a risk. In an official statement, Smith advised community members from the seven designated countries to suspend plans for international travel. Marks-Gold advised students from these countries who are traveling within the U.S. to bring all identification papers with them. Vandenberg recommended that international students and students enrolled under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program speak to an experienced immigration attorney before traveling abroad. He also urged caution to DACA students with plans to study abroad due to the risk of Advance Parole being suspended while they are spending a semester in a study abroad program. Advance Parole permits those without a valid immigrant visa to re-enter the country after travelling abroad.
“DACA students know that any day it could be over. These students are highly motivated, and they know the risk,” Vandenberg said of the work ethic of DACA students amidst an uncertain future for the program.
Rahman described reading an email from a local mosque that warned any Muslim person who is not a U.S. citizen, including those who are legal permanent residents, against traveling under the current orders. This applies to Muslim non-citizens who are not from the seven banned countries as well.
“It’s really something unprecedented,” he expressed.
Smithey share a similar outlook.
“We’re two weeks in, and it’s going to be a long road,” he said.
Smith concluded her email statement with an affirmation of the values of social justice and diversity core to Swarthmore.
“As a nation and as a campus community, we are in unchartered waters with the new administration,” Smith wrote. “The stakes have never been higher, and our commitment to these values has never been more resolute.”
The future remains uncertain for international and Muslim students and for faculty affected by the ban. Yet the campus community is undivided in its commitment to upholding social justice and protecting each member of the community as the country heads into turbulent waters.