Nearly 50 higher education associations unite to oppose travel ban

Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

In response to President Trump’s sweeping executive order on immigration, nearly 50 higher education organizations united Tuesday to urge the secretary of homeland security to ensure that the United States remains an ambition for the brightest students and scholars from around the world.

On Friday, Trump signed the order, which began a temporary ban on allowing people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States, and suspended admission of refugees for 120 days.

“I’m establishing a new vetting measure to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” Trump said as he signed the order. “We don’t want them here. We want to make sure we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas.”

While some Americans welcomed the tough measures, others took to the streets in protest and filed lawsuits to block them. Colleges and universities across the country scrambled to track students and faculty from the seven countries listed, even as some were denied seats on planes back to the United States or deported, and to make sense of shifting rules.

“We support efforts to enhance the nation’s security,” Molly Corbett Broad, the president of the American Council on Education, wrote on behalf of 46 higher education organizations. “We also believe that it is in our collective interest to ensure that the United States remains the destination of choice for the world’s best and brightest students, faculty and scholars.

“The roughly one million international students that attend U.S. colleges and universities add to this country’s intellectual and cultural vibrancy, and they also yield an estimated economic impact of $32.8 billion and support 400,000 U.S. jobs, according to recent estimates.”

But even a temporary ban, she said, could have a chilling effect on that. The order “has created uncertainty and fear across the country and on our campuses, particularly among students, faculty and scholars from the affected countries, as well as others who worry the restrictions may expand to other countries.

“We are concerned about the problematic implementation of the 90-day freeze on visas, such as cases of people with valid visas being turned away. We fear the chilling effect this will have on the ability of international students and scholars to continue to see the U.S. as a welcoming place for study and research.”

She noted that the executive order indicates that the department has some flexibility in how it imposes the rule. “We thank you for exercising that authority in the case of lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders),” she said. “We urge you to continue to use this discretion whenever possible for students and scholars who clearly pose no threat.”

Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said in an email in response to the letter:

The United States has the world’s most generous immigration system, yet it has been repeatedly exploited by terrorists and other malicious actors who seek to do us harm.

In order to ensure that the U.S. government can conduct a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the national security risks posed from our immigration system, the order imposes a 90-day suspension on entry to the United States of nationals of certain designated countries.

In order to protect Americans, and to advance the national interest, the United States must ensure that those entering this country will not harm the American people subsequent to their entry, and that they do not bear malicious intent toward the United States and its people. The Executive Order protects the United States from countries compromised by terrorism and ensures a more rigorous vetting process. This Executive Order ensures that we have a functional immigration system that safeguards our national security.

The Department of Homeland Security will continue to enforce all of President Trump’s executive orders in a manner that ensures the safety and security of the American people. We will treat all of those we encounter humanely and with professionalism.”

Read the letter, signed by groups representing higher-education types and interests of all kinds, from community colleges to medical schools to research universities, Christian colleges, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and public land-grant institutions, here:

Read the full letter here: