01/31/2017

Order bars AFT members, students from returning to the US

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Editor’s note: The executive order banning faculty from travel has been lifted by court order, but the matter remains a moving target as the White House challenges the rulingand the legitimacy— of the courts.

Faculty, staff and students studying and teaching in the United States are scrambling after President Trump barred entry into the country for many foreign nationals. Those who are abroad visiting family or at academic conferences face the possibility of no return for the 90 days of the executive order. Those in the United States are canceling travel plans, afraid if they leave this country they will not be allowed to return. Many have been in the United States for years, with long-term jobs and families well-ensconced in schools, careers and communities.

The executive order also has banned entry to the United States for all refugees from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somali, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Most are fleeing their war-torn countries' violence.

Protestors at the Supreme Court

The AFT is distributing information and resources on these executive orders and offering some legal advice for foreign nationals from the affected nations. And the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has a toolkit of additional resources.

Significantly, those barred from entering the United States are from majority-Muslim countries, and the order makes an exception for "religious minorities" including Christians. The ban is widely seen as an attempt to ban Muslims from the United States, a religious ban that would be constitutionally prohibited. Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates was fired for refusing to enforce the ban, which she determined was illegal. Courts have challenged the new policy, but border agents are reportedly ignoring court orders. Details of enforcement have been confusing at best.

The AFT has many members who could be shut out of the country or who have been prevented from traveling since the Jan.27 executive order went into effect. The order could affect even those people with green cards, which should allow them to live permanently in the United States. Approximately 25,000 people holding student and work visas, and as many as 500,000 people who are permanent legal residents of the United States could also be affected.

Saira Rafiee

Saira Rafiee (pictured above), a doctoral student of political science at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, is among those who were stopped at the U.S. border. Returning from vacation in Iran, she was detained for 18 hours in Abu Dhabi before being sent back to Tehran. "I have no clue whether I would ever be able to go back to the school I like so much," she wrote in a public post on Facebook. But her concern is for others: One student in the United States had to cancel what she fears could be a last visit with a sister who has cancer in Iran. Another was visiting his fiancée in Canada and is unable to return to his studies. And students doing fieldwork for dissertations that have taken years to research are unable to come back to complete their work. "These stories are not even close in painfulness and horror of those who are fleeing war and disastrous situations in their home countries," wrote Rafiee, whose CUNY colleagues rallied to "#GetSairaHome" at the Brooklyn courthouse Jan. 30.

Rafiee returned to the United States on Feb. 4 to a rousing welcome from CUNY student activists, lawyers from CUNY’s Citizenship Now! program, family members and others who had worked to make her return possible. “Union support matters,” says PSC president Barbara Bowen. “Hundreds of PSC members responded to the union’s call for messages urging action on Saira’s case, helping to focus public attention on her case. Collective action worked.”

Ali Kadivar, a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University, is stuck on this side of the border. His work, on pro-democracy movements in Iran and the Middle East, depends on international field travel and professional conferences. If he were to travel outside the United States and be barred from re-entry, he could not return to Iran, either; his work there has been perceived as a threat by the Iranian regime. Meanwhile Kadivar's father, Mohsen Kadivar, a research professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, is stranded in Germany, working on a fellowship and unsure of when he might be allowed to return. He spent a year in an Iranian jail in 1999 for his "dissident" views, and has been living in exile in the United States for about nine years. His wife, who also lives in the United States, has canceled a trip to join him.

In addition to the turmoil academics and other travelers are experiencing, the older also bans all refugees for 120 days and so families seeking safe haven from war and violence are also being turned away. Many of these refugees have already gone through extensive, sometimes years-long, approval processes, and now entire families are being sent back to refugee camps.

Crowd at the Supreme Court

A great swell of resistance has risen up against the executive orders. Protests were immediate and flooded airports with people welcoming foreign travelers and protesting Trump's xenophobic policies. A growing list of university presidents, academic organizations and scholarly groups have condemned the executive orders as well. Members of Congress gathered at the Supreme Court Jan. 30 to register their dismay. Congress can override executive orders via a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate, and both Democratic and Republican legislators oppose the bans. 

The AFT and millions of Americans are vehemently opposing the executive orders on both moral and political grounds. Not only are they cruel to the individuals involved, they are counterproductive to the president's supposed rationale that they will protect the country. Instead, they are feeding the story line that the United States is the enemy of all Muslims.

"Amid all the bigotry and dishonesty that marked President Trump's first week in office, Friday will be remembered as an especially shameful day in our nation's history," wrote AFT President Randi Weingarten, in a post referring to the day the executive orders were issued. The order was signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Weingarten, who protested with throngs at JFK Airport in New York City, added, "We must all continue to speak up. We are better than this. We must stand together against the hate and bigotry that this policy enshrines."

For more on how to resist, see the resources page on AFT All In.

[Virginia Myers, press releases]

M. Ali Kadivar: How will immigration ban impact scholarly work?

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If you have been affected by the ban and want to share your story, email us.