On Friday, President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order banning Syrian citizens indefinitely and citizens of seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the United States for 90 days. This order includes citizens of those countries who had previously been granted refugee status and currently enjoy permanent legal status in the United States and citizens of allied nations such as Canada and the U.K. who happen to originate from one of the listed countries. As U.S. authorities began detaining an increasing number of people, protesters began to flood airports across the country.
Beyond those directly affected, the order has serious ramifications for the entire country: family members separated from each other, such as an Iranian mother separated from her five-year-old son at Washington’s Dulles International Airport; tenured scientists hindered from continuing their work, such as computational biologist Samira Asgari, who was “very shocked that all [her] efforts, that all [she had] done, can be undone – just like that.” American universities have since advised their foreign students against making international travel plans and find the strength of their educational and research efforts at risk.
Over 20 percent of Cornellians are international students, and many others participate in programs abroad. As a university that boasts the motto “any person, any study” and is deeply committed to fostering an inclusive campus experience for people of all backgrounds, Cornell must guarantee students their safety despite the troubling executive order. On Jan. 29, Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III published a statement, in the wake of similar messages issued by institutions such as the University of Michigan and Harvard University, urging immediate reporting of their incidents and offering various resources such as continued privacy of student records and legal assistance. We applaud President Rawlings’ statement of support, as he pledges to provide legal support for those affected by Trump’s executive order and to continue supporting international and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival students.
The fight to resist and oppose Trump’s thinly-veiled Muslim ban, however, should not end there: Cornell should follow in the steps of University of Michigan, which refused to release the immigration status of its students; Cornell must ensure that students, faculty members and researchers whose lives have been interrupted by the ban are given adequate professional accommodations; the University’s Federal Relations Office should dedicate its resources to pushing for a full repeal of the immigration ban; beyond being a member of the Association of American Universities which called for a “quick end” to the executive order, Cornell should work relentlessly alongside peer institutions to collectively ensure intellectual exchange continues across borders. We must realize that institutions of higher education have an obligation to not only support marginalized groups, but also actively resist the xenophobic and racist policies that threaten freedom, equality and diversity.
Indeed, the surrounding community has already started mobilizing. Seattle attorney Joe Shaeffer ’92 worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to release two men detained at Seattle-Tacoma International airport. During an Emergency Rally to Support Immigrant Rights on Saturday, Ithacans gathered with their immigrant neighbors to show their unwavering support. Students and locals alike protested at Syracuse airport, demonstrating “the city’s openness to refugees from around the world.”
These are only a few examples of the community’s potential to protect the diversity that our culture thrives on, and we hope that incoming president Martha Pollack continues to maintain Cornell’s status as a safe haven for students of all nationalities, ethnicities and religions. Cornell must emphasize that President Trump’s executive order will not interfere with the university’s stance on inclusive practices: the presence of students from all backgrounds promotes cross-cultural learning, love and respect among all Cornellians.