Students respond to uncertainty following Trump’s executive order
Emily McConville | Wednesday, February 1, 2017
In the five days since President Donald Trump signed an executive order on immigration, the approximately 30 Notre Dame students from the affected countries, and the staff who assist them, have been uncertain about their futures.
“This is a big change, a big sudden change,” Arman Mirhashemi, a Ph.D. candidate in aerospace and mechanical engineering from Iran, said. “You don’t expect it, so you don’t know what to do with it.”
The executive order, issued Friday, stops U.S. visas from being issued to nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen for 90 days; changes rules regarding refugees and Syrian nationals specifically; and calls for a review of the visa adjudication process, with the goal of preventing terrorism.
Notre Dame International’s (NDI) Director of International Programs, Rosemary Max, said most of the approximately 30 students from the countries affected by the order are graduate students in STEM fields, and many come from Iran.
In addition, there are also “a handful of faculty handled by the order,” as well as two visiting professors who were slated to arrive next week, but now are most likely not able to enter the United States, University spokesman Dennis Brown said.
While all the current students were safely on campus when it was issued, Max said the order still affects them.
“These are students who are busy doing amazing things for us,” she said. “They have family members in other countries. Some of them have spouses in another country that they were hoping to go and see very soon, and so there are questions about whether they will be able to do those things in the next 90 days or not, and what will happen after that — we just don’t know.”
The order sparked protests around the country, including in South Bend. On Sunday, University President Fr. John Jenkins released a statement, condemning the order as “sweeping, indiscriminate and abrupt,” and urging Trump to rescind it.
Saint Mary’s President Jan Cervelli also condemned the order. According to Mana Derekshani, director of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership, no students of the College are from the affected countries.
Soon after the order was issued, students from the seven affected countries received an email advising them not to leave the country. Max said students were invited to come into or email Notre Dame International if they had further questions — but there was not much information to give in response.
For several days, the status of people from the affected countries who have green cards was still unclear. The Trump administration said Sunday green-card holders would not be prevented from entering.
Some Notre Dame students who are citizens of one of the seven countries affected are also citizens of a country the administration did not name. Initially, dual citizens were included under the ban, but Max said dual citizens of some countries may soon be able to enter — but it isn’t clear which ones.
“Someone from the U.K. but [who] was born in Syria might be able to travel, but it’s too early to tell,” she said. “It’s still very murky. I would say one thing is what’s on paper and what’s actually happening at the border — we’re trying to get our mind around those two things, so we can see how best to advise our students.”
In addition, Max said it isn’t clear whether students can change their visa status from, say, a student visa to a work visa if they want to get a job.
That, Mirhashemi said, is a concern of many students set to graduate this spring. He said a common path for students after school is to get a temporary work visa in their field of study.
“Everything is on hold — all petitions and everything for anybody with Iranian origin, as well as the other six countries,” he said.
Unlike many Iranian students, Mirhashemi, who has been in the United States for seven years, has permanent residency, as opposed to a nonimmigrant student visa. But over the weekend, he spearheaded an effort to write a letter to Jenkins expressing concern over the scope of the executive order and gratitude towards Jenkins for his statement against it. 21 students from the affected countries signed it — 19 from Iran, one from Syria and one from Iraq.
Mirhashemi, who was involved in political and human rights activism in Iran, said Trump reminds him of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was hostile to the United States, in that “both see the world in a binary.” He said he worries the order is contradictory to American values.
“When you’re looking at the United States, you’re looking at a country with a rich history toward freedom and justice,” he said. “So you don’t expect this happens in such a country. I think part of my concerns from this are what is going to happen both for me and — it’s not only something that affects the U.S. It affects everywhere.”
Max said she hopes Trump will issue another executive order clarifying certain points in the first order, at which point NDI may host a forum to answer questions. In the meantime, she said the University would continue to support those students.
“International students — when they come here — there are so many barriers already to get here in terms of traveling, visa, expenses, new culture — and so just maybe keep in mind that these are people who are quite resilient. They’re great resources for our community, and students should feel free to reach out to them and talk to them, and welcome them again especially in this time,” she said.