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Harvard, Princeton, MIT lead campus fight against Trump’s travel ban

Premier colleges are dominated by liberal thought and are ideologically opposed to an order that is seen to unfairly profile and target Muslims.

world Updated: Feb 06, 2017 15:17 IST
Ridhima Shukla
Students at the University California San Diego protest against US President Donald Trump's current immigration orders.
Students at the University California San Diego protest against US President Donald Trump's current immigration orders.(Reuters photo)

America’s best universities and colleges are teaching President Donald Trump a lesson: They won’t take his controversial policies lying down.

There are two reasons behind the stand: Premier colleges are dominated by liberal thought and are ideologically opposed to an order that is seen to unfairly profile and target Muslims.

Secondly, such institutions are highly dependent on foreign talent and stand to lose as much as $700 million in annual revenue if Trump’s travel ban on visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen becomes permanent, according to a higher education research website.

Over 20,000 faculty members from many universities across the US, 572 members of the US National Academy of Sciences and hundreds of scientists have signed the “NoToImmigrationBan” petition.

The Association of American Universities (AAU) comprising 62 colleges released a statement asking the government to end the travel ban. Universities also uploaded statements on their websites, sent emails to foreign students and held seminars offering support, resources as well as advice. The presidents of 48 American colleges and universities delivered a searing letter to the President.

Here is a list of some premier colleges responding to the executive order.

California Institute for Human Science

Last week, federal agents detained Iranian graduate Sara Yarjani at Los Angeles International Airport after Trump issued his 90-day ban order . Yarjani returned to the US on Sunday after a judge halted the order. She has a valid two-year student visa.

“We contacted our Congresspeople, legal services and the media. We also reached out to her in Europe, to see whether there was any other way we might be of service. Thankfully, Sara was able to return today and was met by her sister at the airport,” Ji Hyang Padma, director of the institute’s comparative religion and philosophy program, who taught Yarjani in a 2015 class on mind-body health, told Hindustan Times.

Sara Yarjani, an Iranian student who was detained for 23 hours and deported back to Vienna last week, hugs her sister after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday. (NYT photo)

“Sara and I spoke today, and I truly look forward to sharing a meal with her and supporting her return to her studies,” he added.

Padma informed that the college had cautioned its international students from the affected countries to stay in the US until the legality has all been worked out.

“The ban severely limits the free exchange of ideas. Cultural exchange is at the heart of education. It also affects universities financially, as we have benefitted in every way from these students,” he added.

Harvard University

The university’s daily student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, reported that the college has joined seven other higher education institutions in filing an amicus brief challenging Trump’s order.

Harvard and the other universities—Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute—will file as amici in an existing suit against Trump filed on Saturday by two Iranian engineering professors at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth who were detained at Logan Airport in Boston the weekend after Trump’s executive order.

Harvard is home to 49 students and 62 scholars who have non-immigrant visas from the seven countries. The Harvard International Office on Saturday advised foreign nationals not to leave the country.

University president Drew G Faust, in her email sent to the university, said Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic had hired a full-time attorney dedicated to representing undocumented students and launched a website providing resources for those students.

“Nearly half of the deans of Harvard’s schools are immigrants—from India, China, Northern Ireland, Jamaica, and Iran,” Faust wrote. “Benefiting from the talents and energy, the knowledge and ideas of people from nations around the globe is not just a vital interest of the University; it long has been, and it fully remains, a vital interest of our nation.”

Boston University

The institute has seen protests, a town hall by faculty to address student concerns and questions, heavy critique by academics slamming the order and of course, advice to students asking them not to travel outside the country any time soon “as it places one at risk of not being readmitted to the US.”

University of Illinois

The university amplified the concerns of the international community and came out in full support saying, “We can fight fear with compassion. Time and again our community has summoned compassion for its members in distress, and we trust that it will do so again.”

It also advised its students not to travel outside the US.

They have also created an Administrative Working Group on Immigration that has membership from key offices across campus.

“This is one of those times at Illinois when extraordinary effort and extraordinary kindness can combine to make an extraordinary difference. We are counting on it—and on you,” chancellor Robert J Jones told the students.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

According to the institute’s website, two MIT undergraduates who were denied re-entry to the United States last weekend landed at Logan Airport on Friday. Both were prevented from boarding flights back to Boston last weekend after spending the winter break with their families.

“We can all be glad that our affected undergraduates have overcome their immediate immigration difficulties and are back with us,” MIT president L Rafael Reif wrote on Friday in an email to the MIT community.

Friends of one of the two MIT undergraduates initially denied re-entry to the United States offered a warm welcome on Friday. (MIT photo)

More than 100 students and researchers from the seven affected nations are now on campus -- their immigration status is unclear in the wake of the executive order.

The institute’s governmental affairs teams in Cambridge and Washington have advocated with relevant federal agencies on their behalf, enlisted help from the Massachusetts congressional delegation and pursued exemptions to the executive order for the stranded students and scholars.

MIT has also connected the affected people with legal and travel resources and engaged its global alumni network to amplify calls for their return.

About 200 MIT students and faculty marched across the Harvard Bridge on January 29 to show solidarity with those affected by the order.

MIT letter (MIT website)

Stanford University

The university told its members who might be impacted by the order to postpone international travel for the time being.

One of Stanford’s graduate students, returning from a research trip in Sudan, was detained after the order.

A statement on the college website said, “This graduate student, a legal permanent resident of the United States, was detained for several hours at Kennedy International Airport, and handcuffed briefly, upon trying to return from a research trip. While thankfully she was released, we are enormously concerned about the anguish this episode caused our student and her family, and what it may suggest for others in similar situations.”

Princeton University

The university’s president Christopher L Eisgruber pledged to “vigorously” support its “extraordinary individuals of diverse nationalities and faiths” and shared a personal story on the college website.

“My mother and her family arrived in this country as refugees escaping from a war-torn continent. They would have perished had they been denied visas,” he wrote. Its Davis International Center will provide advice and resources to the students.

New York University

A statement to the campus community included the following promises:

Will not permit federal officials on campus to gather information about immigrants in our community absent a subpoena or similar legal orderPublic Safety Officers do not and will not ask about the immigration status of members of the NYU community. Will vigorously uphold the privacy protections of students. The University’s scholarship assistance to non-US-citizens, which is independent of federal financial aid programs, will carry on.

Columbia University

A section of Indian-origin researchers based in the US have also joined 51 Nobel laureates and over 27,000 academics from across the globe in denouncing Trump’s ban.

(With inputs from agencies)