Virginia universities respond to immigration order


Correction: The original article said Radford University’s president, Brian Hemphill, did not issue a statement on President Trump’s executive order. However Hempill did issue a statement on Jan. 30.

One week after his inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump signed an executive order that indefinitely suspended admissions for Syrian refugees and limited the flow of other refugees from six other countries into the U.S.

This is what the President has called “extreme vetting” of immigrants.

Following that order, demonstrations erupted across the country. Hundreds of people were detained at airports and customs offices amid widespread confusion on how to interpret the order.

On Jan. 29, VCU President Michael Rao released a statement on President Trump’s executive order keeping visa and green card holders of seven countries from entering the U.S.

“Many of you have understandably expressed concern and anxiety about the impact of the U.S. Presidential Executive Order that for the next 90 days bans visa and green card holders of seven countries from entering the United States,” Rao said.

The order prohibits citizens of Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya and Yemen from entering the U.S., even if they hold dual citizenship with another non-US country or are permanent residents with green cards. It also halts the admission of all refugees to the U.S. for four months.

Despite the split support from university presidents for President Trump and his actions, the question has to be asked: How will this executive order impact college students in Virginia and across the nation?

In a letter to the Virginia Tech community, President Timothy Sands said the executive order may directly impact more than 100 students.

According to Suzanne Seurattan, director of news and media at The College of William and Mary, the college has four students from the seven countries listed in the executive order. One of the four students is out of the country and unable to re-enter for the time being.

“We are in touch with that student and the others and we want to do everything we can to assist them,” Seurattan told the Virginia Gazette.

Mohammad Khan, President of the Muslim Student Association at VCU, said a large population of VCU’s international students come from the Middle East and are here legally on visas or green cards to study.

“They’ve spent four or five years here and this is happening and they might not be able to graduate at VCU,” he added.

There are 1,600 international students at VCU from more than 100 countries, according to the VCU International Admissions office.

“We have joined with hundreds of other higher education leaders to call for continued protections and access for our students affected by the DACA program,” Rao said. “The university is working broadly to examine how we can support our community members affected by this new executive order.”

Rao advised those from the restricted countries to avoid nonessential travel outside the country for the time being.

During the 2015-16 school year, Iran sent more than 12,000 students to study at U.S. universities, according to the Institute of International Education. This is far more than any other country on President Trump’s list.

University presidents across the state shared similar statements. University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan issued a school-wide statement 30 minutes before Trump protesters gathered at the Rotunda on Jan. 29.

“We are concerned about the larger effect this and related actions may have on American universities, including U.Va., as we seek to expose students to international experiences,” Sullivan said.

The next day, James Madison University President Jonathan Alger addressed students, faculty and staff on the matter.

“We are a stronger and better university because of our global outreach and our commitment to access, inclusion and diversity. This commitment serves as one of our core qualities at JMU,” Alger said.

Additional Virginia university presidents who released a statement include Ángel Cabrera (George Mason University), Troy Paino (University of Mary Washington), John Broderick (Old Dominion University), Ronald Crutcher (University of Richmond), Taylor Reveley (The College of William and Mary) and more.

A handful of university presidents across the state did not issue statements, including Makola Abdullah of Virginia State University.

Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University and an evangelical leader, was among the university presidents who did not issue a statement. In January 2016, amid student protests, Falwell endorsed President Trump’s campaign, and on Feb. 1, President Trump asked Falwell to lead a White House task force dedicated to changing higher education.

President Trump attended Liberty University and Radford University for campaign rallies on Jan. 18, 2016 and Feb. 29, 2016, respectively.

Schools across the country have current students who are worried they won’t be allowed back into the U.S. if they leave, prospective students who may not be allowed in at all and faculty who are from the banned countries and fear they will be denied re-entry if they try to visit sick family members or relatives outside the country.

“Our commitment to our international students, faculty, staff and patients is unwavering,” Rao said. “We will continue to do everything within the law to support and advocate for the international members of our community.”


Maura Mazurowski

Maura is a senior pursuing degrees in cinema and mass communications. This is her second year at the CT; prior to joining transferring to VCU, Maura was the news editor for two years at Virginia Tech’s student newspaper, the Collegiate Times.
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Infographic by Sarah King
Infographic by Sarah King

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