By Rachel Popa
Managing Editor of Social Media and Web Content
Donald Trump’s presidency has been riddled with controversy from the start, but perhaps the most controversial issue has been the president’s ban on immigrants and refugees entering the United States.
Originally, the legislation banned immigrants and refugees from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia) for 120 days. According to the White House, the ban was put in order as a means of “extreme vetting.” Ever since Trump first introduced the legislation by means of an executive order on January 27, a week after his inauguration, it has been challenged in court and deemed unconstitutional. Since the original executive order did not hold up in court, President Trump has signed a revised executive order that only bans immigrants and refugees from six countries (he took Iraq out of the revised ban), and has protections for those who hold visas. While Trump’s new executive order protects those already here, bans people from one less country, shortened the ban to 90 days (refugees are still banned for 120 days), and has removed special preference for Christians in the Middle East, the idea of a ban itself is still problematic, especially for international students at Roosevelt.
After the first ban was put in place, the Torch reached out to students and faculty to get their reactions to it, and to gauge how the ban would affect students from other countries who are studying at Roosevelt.
“For the majority of Roosevelt international students, this travel ban has no direct impact as we have a small number of students from these countries studying at Roosevelt,” said Dawn Hougland, the assistant director of international programs. “However, anytime there are changes in immigration policies, this can be a cause of stress for students. We are looking to provide some outreach to students to discuss their concerns and make sure they are aware of available resources.”
After Trump signed the executive order for the travel ban the first time, the president of Roosevelt University, Ali Malekzadeh, released a statement that reaffirmed the university’s mission of inclusivity to students from all backgrounds. Additionally, it was announced in the statement that a committee was formed in order to address student concerns, as well as that the university supports BRIDGE Act legislation that ensures the privacy of student records (including immigration status), in accordance with state and federal laws. The Outreach, Advocacy, Social Justice, Information and Safety (OASIS) Committee will be reviewing and responding to immigration issues as they relate to higher education, according to a statement released by the university. One of the committee’s goals is to preserve and protect the rights of international students and immigrants, regardless of status, who are enrolled or would like to enroll at Roosevelt University, the statement said. Additionally, the university has launched a new safe space campaign titled “Inclusion Has No Borders.” The campaign encourages Roosevelt community members to uphold the university’s values of inclusion and support by posting “Inclusion Has No Borders” signs around the university’s buildings, the statement said.
“There are a lot of questions swirling out there whether it’s safe for international students to come to the United States to study,” said Pamela Robert, co-chair of the OASIS Committee in a written statement. “We think it is important to get the word out there that Roosevelt not only cares about international students, but also is a place where people from all over the globe are welcome.”
Sam Helli, a master’s student studying computer science at Roosevelt, immigrated from Iraq to the U.S. in 2012. Before moving to the U.S., Helli worked as an interpreter for the United States Marines for over three years.
“I never regretted what I did and never will and always say it with a head held high with pride ‘I was a combat interpreter for the US Marines in Iraq,’” Helli said. “And I’ll do it all over again without a second thought of it, as I’m proud Iraqi national, Arabian Muslim and U.S. resident.”
Leticia Garcia, who is getting her master’s in international studies and sustainability at Roosevelt, said she feels Trump would have to change everything about our constitution in order to justify the travel ban.
“I feel like what makes the United States is that it’s made up of immigrants. It’s going to be difficult, but Trump can’t take away the right of free speech,” Garcia said, talking about the peaceful protests that have taken place against the travel ban. Garcia, in addition to being on officer for the International Students Association at Roosevelt, and the president of Roosevelt’s United Nations Association chapter, is an immigrant from Mexico. When asked about how the travel ban might affect how potential international students view coming to America, Garcia said that as long as students stand up for their rights, the travel ban won’t affect how students from other countries view the U.S.
“They’re paying so much more money just to come here and get the education,” Garcia said of international students. “Seriously, you’re going to ban them from being here and treat them like a prisoner? It’s just not right.”
On a cloudy and rainy day, the Torch sat down with the president of the university to get his thoughts on the travel ban. When asked about how receiving an education in the United States has affected his life, Malekzadeh said that it has been the most important thing that has happened to him. Malekzadeh is an Iranian-American who was granted asylum by the U.S. in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution took place.
“This is the most damaging policy that I can see affecting our colleges and universities and the openness of our society,” Malekzadeh said about Trump’s travel ban. “It will have negative implications for the next decade or two, because if you are a young woman sitting in any country, and thinking ‘I want to go to college in the U.S. because my cousin went there,’ right then your parents will tell you, ‘No honey, think about another place.’ This is going to have on the economic side, hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to our economy, and tens of thousands of students will be reluctant to come to our universities.”
Malekzadeh also said that Trump’s travel ban could have negative implications for Americans as well.
“When we start to travel with our U.S. passports, every country in the world is going to do the same thing to us.”
Shortly after Trump signed the first executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries, lawmakers in Iraq voted in favor of temporarily banning Americans from entering the country, according to a report from Al Jazeera. However, the prime minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi said that the country would not follow through with the ban, citing the potential to harm national interests.
However, despite the possible negative implications for international students, Malekzadeh reiterated the value of an open education in the United States.
“In the rest of the world, there is no such thing as open education,” Malekzadeh said. “That cannot be taken for granted.”
At the time of publication, the legality of Trump’s revised travel ban has been challenged by federal courts in Hawaii and Maryland, according to the Associated Press. The judge who is putting the ban on hold in Hawaii, U.S. District Judge Derrick Kahala Watson, cited the ban’s “questionable evidence supporting the government’s national security motivation.” Watson said that Hawaii is likely to succeed on a claim that the ban violates the First Amendment right protecting people against religious discrimination, according to the Associated Press. Conversely, Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit defended president Trump’s travel ban, citing that it would go against the First Amendment to use Trump’s campaign statements as proof that the ban was drafted as a “Muslim ban.”