University feels sting of Trump travel ban

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Photo credit: Mason Shoemaker

Several members of the UAF community have been affected by President Trump’s travel ban, and full extent of its impact on the University has not yet been determined.

“I like it here because of the people,” Ameneh Arabi, a student who is affected by the ban, said. “I would prefer to stay here, I don’t want to go back to Europe or Iran. Here [people] behave like my family, like my friends.”

The ban, implemented by a Jan. 27 executive order, forbids immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen until the end of March, in addition to suspending the programs accepting refugees into the US.

Arabi is not the only person on campus affected by the order.

“We are aware of a half dozen students and employees who are from one of the affected nations,” Marmian Grimes, senior public information officer, said.

The remaining two faculty members and three students affected are currently in the U.S. Some are still reeling from the executive order.

Arabi, a PhD student student studying biochemistry, is now separated from her family in Iran, and her husband, who is a PhD student in Italy.

“It wasn’t easy for me to come here [to the U.S.] … put my future for PhD here, put my energy, time, money to find a position but now everything is destroyed,” Arabi said. “They play with my future. I’m not a refugee. I’m not a terrorist. I just want to get my PhD in America.”

Mohabbat Ahmadi, a petroleum engineering professor, is one of the faculty affected by the travel ban.

“Yes we definitely have a lot of differences in a lot of things,” Ahmadi said about Iranians and Americans. “But at the same time we are all human … we should be caring about each other. We should respect each other and see how we can help each other.”

Iranian students make up about one percent of international students in the U.S. Among them, 82 percent study at the graduate level — the highest such percentage of any country. About 75 percent are studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects—also, the among the highest percentages of international students, according to a report by the Washington Institute.

“We get a lot of good students, especially graduate students, from those schools in Iran,” Ahmadi said. “If they don’t come here they’ll go and find somewhere else … These are really high quality kind of kids that you can get and you know, serve this country.”

The order might leave students from the countries affected by the travel ban disillusioned with the U.S. particularly if other countries offer alternatives. The Iranian government is allowing Iranian students at U.S. universities to study for free and without entrance exams in Iran, according to Arabi.

“I think many Iranian students don’t want to come here anymore and prefer to go to Canada or go study in Europe,” Arabi said.

Another person, a postdoctoral researcher is currently visiting her home country Iran. She is planning to return to the U.S. the week of this writing, according to Grimes.

The Office of International Programs and Initiatives is in contact with her and is providing her with a letter of support to facilitate her re-entry into the U.S.

The university may not be aware of all students and faculty affected by the ban as they do not track the countries of origin of those who are already permanent U.S residents, Grimes pointed out.

“There could be other people who are citizens of one of the affected countries, or who have dual citizenship, that we may not be aware of,” Grimes said.

University attorneys and the International Programs Office are working with those affected by the policy.

“The value of the international community at UAF is immeasurable,” Donna Anger, director of International Programs & Initiatives, “Our office is closely monitoring continuing developments and coordinating with UA leadership to provide support to those impacted.”

While travel policies remain vague and inconsistent, the university is advising employees and students who are citizens of affected countries not to travel outside the U.S at this time, and is encouraging members of the campus community who think they could be affected by the executive order to get in touch with the International Programs & Initiatives office for assistance and support.

Ahmadi said that he was “really proud” of the way that people reached out to him after the executive order was in place.

“The way that I see this wave of hope and warmth, it really makes me super happy to know where I am,” Ahmadi said. “That’s something that is extremely valuable. Thank you guys very much for caring about these events.”

Arabi had similar thoughts of appreciation for the community, but said she wished that the order hadn’t called attention to her.

“After that day I got many messages on Facebook,” Arabi said. “Everyone became more friendly and kind and I don’t like that. I’m a person.”

In a campus-wide email, UA President Jim Johnsen gave the university system’s position on the ban.

“[We are] committed to ensuring that all students, staff, faculty and their families can focus on what brought them here in the first place,” Johnsen wrote. “The pursuit of scholarship in an environment that supports them regardless of their race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

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