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Future of International Students Uncertain in Wake of Travel Ban

(Andy Bao/The Independent)
Graphic by Diana Aristizábal

Clark student woke up to a call from his concerned father. Early morning light filtered through his window as his dad’s frantic words rattled around inside his still sleeping brain. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes as his dad kept saying something about a travel ban, about his son not being welcome in the U.S. The student didn’t think much of it. Until he checked the news.

This was how Othman Alamoudi, a second-year Clark student and a Yemeni born in Saudi Arabia found out about the travel ban. He woke up to find that President Donald Trump spent the night of Jan. 27 signing an executive order banning people from seven North African and Middle Eastern countries from entering the U.S.

The order applied to Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia, barring refugees for 120 days and all immigrants for 90 days. Trump said he selected those countries because of concern for terrorist immigration, despite that “from 1975 to the end of 2015, 20 refugees have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees,” according to an immigration expert from the Cato Institute. Trump administration officials have claimed both that this order fulfills Trump’s campaign promise to ban Muslims, and that it’s not a “ban” at all.capture4

While the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimously ruled on Feb. 9 to uphold a block on the travel ban, the order still caused concern. It prevented immigrants from entering the country while it was in place, and leaves a lingering sense of insecurity for international students like Alamoudi.

Because Alamoudi is of Yemeni nationality, he would not have been allowed to return had he left the U.S. while the ban was in place. He said he feared his visa would be cancelled when he found out about the order.

“It was really stressful,” Alamoudi said. “When I saw the news I was shocked. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to get banned!’ I just want to complete my AA degree.”

Alamoudi said his friends and family from home were more worried than he was. They called almost daily to ensure he was safe, and his dad tried to convince Alamoudi to fly back home.

Alamoudi also said the travel ban has caused many of his friends and family to apply for student visas in Canada and Europe instead of the U.S.

Director of International Programs Jane Walster said Alamoudi’s friends are not the only nervous ones. Her office has received emails from concerned prospective international students who want to know if it’s safe to come to Clark.

“I think any prospective student or parent of a prospective student is now going to wonder, ‘Is this a welcoming place?’” Walster said. “We will always support international students, but we do not control federal regulation.”

The International Programs office foresees a drop in international applications due to the uncertainty surrounding the ban. Walster thinks this would be bad for the Clark community.

“There are really good reasons to have international students on campus,” Walster said. “It’s a kind of window to the world. Most local students are never going to go abroad. This may be their first chance to meet somebody from countries that are rarely represented in this area.”

While she sees issues with the ban, Walster said it’s important to consider both sides to an argument. She said Trump and his supporters believe that the president has the right to use executive orders to protect the U.S. and that immigration is a security interest.

Geography professor and former Department of Defense contractor Heather McAfee echoed Walster’s balanced approach to this issue.

“We’re in the hangover of the election, so our heads hurt,” McAfee said. “Now we don’t know who to believe or what to believe, and I think we can link that directly back to this ban. Don’t just take tweets and snippets, find out why you agree with it.”

McAfee said she believes that turning immigrants away will be bad for the U.S. because it will stunt academic growth.

“Just by putting a temporary ban up, the ripple effects in the pond will go on for a long time,” McAfee said. “If they’re banned to come in, then academia will halt. We won’t hear their voices at all. We’ll just continue group think and justify it with national security.”

Despite the stay on the order, tensions continue to escalate internationally as Trump has said that a new order could take the travel ban’s place.

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