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February 13, 2017

Cornell Joins 16 Universities in Amicus Brief Rebuking Executive Order Travel Ban

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Seventeen days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring the entrance of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, and 10 days following Harvard’s signing of an amicus brief rebuking the same order, Cornell has joined 16 other universities in support of a court challenge to the ban.

The amicus brief, filed Monday in a Brooklyn federal court, follows a series of actions taken by the University in response to President Trump’s order, including a statement from Interim President Hunter Rawlings which reaffirmed the University’s commitment to “continue to solicit, accept and process applications from international students from around the world, including from the impacted countries.”

This brief, however, takes a wider-encompassing approach to the executive order, pointing out its impact on higher education as a whole.

“Cornell University ‘aims, through public service, to enhance the lives and livelihoods of [its] students, the people of New York and others around the world,’” the brief reads. “And promotes ‘a culture that encourages global engagement — to expand multicultural knowledge and international understanding across the entire Cornell community: in Ithaca, New York City and the world.”’

“These costs are significant and directly affect amici’s ability to pursue their missions,” the brief continues. “And they are being experienced absent any evidence that amici’s lawfully-present students, faculty and scholars — all of whom have already undergone significant vetting by the government — pose any threat to the safety or security of the United States or amici’s campuses.”

Cornell’s action comes shortly after an Iranian Ph.D. candidate by the name of Amir was turned away at John F. Kennedy Airport, temporarily halting a joint research project between Cornell and Chalmers University of Technology. Cornell was outspoken in its disapproval of customs denying Amir, and has since provided students from the impacted countries coffee chats with immigration lawyers to discuss the impact of the order.

“One of the reasons why Cornell is such a special place is that people who have great skills and talents can come together in one place, and I hope that can continue,” said Brendan O’Brien, director of the International Student and Scholars Office, on Feb. 2.

The brief scolds the order for its hampering of universities trying to “draw the finest international talent, and inhibits the free exchange of ideas.” Though O’Brien is not aware of any additional individuals currently unable to come to Cornell, the University has made clear its desire to keep the free flow of research and scholars streaming smoothly into Ithaca.

“Cornell is going to do what it can on a national scale to provide more opportunities for exchange,” O’Brien said.

Along with Cornell, the brief includes the entirety of the Ivy League, as well as many highly-regarded U.S. institutions, including Duke, MIT, Stanford, University of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern and Vanderbilt.

“As amici have explained, they strive to foster a culture of diversity, inclusion and tolerance on their campuses,” the brief reads. “The Executive Order undercuts those important efforts by making many of amici’s students, faculty and scholars feel “less than,” and signaling, from the highest levels of government, that discrimination is not only acceptable but appropriate.”