President Donald Trump issued an executive order January 27 that banned travel to the United States for individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Under the order, refugees are banned for 120 days, and Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely. Trump defended his executive order by asserting that recent terrorist attacks have been attributed to foreign individuals, and pointed in particular to the attacks of September 11, despite the fact that none of the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were from the countries named. Although the constitutionality of this order is being reviewed, it has had massive implications, both worldwide and among members of the Colgate community.
Trump’s executive order sparked immediate outrage from both Democrats and Republicans. A long list of Democrats officials quickly spoke out, as well as a number of Republicans, including U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who released a joint statement strongly criticizing the ban, calling out its potential to “help terrorist recruitment.” Foreign leaders, such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also condemned the order, and Iran said that they would ban Americans from entering.
The American Civil Liberties Union, several states, among other parties quickly filed lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of the executive order, with judges in multiple jurisdictions issuing limits on the ban. Friday, February 3, Judge James Robart, a George W. Bush-appointed federal judge ruling from Seattle, Washington, asserted that there were legal grounds to challenge the order. The district judge implemented a temporary hold that immediately suspended the Homeland Security ban nationwide, that at the time of publication, still stands. The State Department began reversing the estimated 60,000 visa cancellations. Despite Trump tweeting his outrage, BBC News reported on February 4 that airlines started to allow previously-banned travelers to board flights to America with some form of valid visa.
Among all the global reactions, students at Colgate are being affected in a variety of ways. Despite Trump’s campaign promises to enact measures such as this one, many were still shocked when it came to fruition.
First-year and Pakistani native, Saad Munir was one such student.
“I didn’t take it very seriously at first as I heard similar news over the entire presidential campaign and I had never thought that those campaign promises would be carried out,” Munir said. “I was sort of shocked when I got to know that it’s actually happening because I used to think that any such step would be illegal according to the U.S. constitution. However, I later got to know that the government has the authority to ban certain countries as long as the ban is not explicitly religious in nature.”
While sophomore Wil Stowers does not support a full ban because of the implications it has on refugees seeking a better life, he also points out the the executive order declared was toned down from what Trump had promised his supporters during the campaign.
“The countries included are included because the United States government has flagged those nations’ domestic identification verification processes as being less trustworthy,” Stowers said.
For Munir, as well as other students, this ban feels indicative of potential further measures taken against immigrants or people in America on various kinds of visas. Munir is from Pakistan, which was not named, but is rumored to be affected by future bans. Other students have expressed concerns over H-1B reforms, which is a visa that allows foreign workers to work in the United States.
“My father has asked me to not go back home during the summer break because I might not be able to reenter the United States upon my return, because more countries can still be added to that list,” Munir said.
Junior Tasnim Ali, who is from Sudan but is now an American citizen, expressed her disdain for the order, noting how she saw Trump’s ban as a form of religious discrimination, an accusation that Trump and his administration have denied.
“Trump’s travel ban is absolutely a Muslim ban,” Ali said. “You can’t ban seven Muslim majority countries, say you’ll give preferential treatment to Christians from those countries, and claim it’s not a Muslim ban. Trump’s claim that it’s a ban on terror/terrorism is also not true. 15 out of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were citizens of Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is nowhere to be found on the list of banned countries. Nothing about this Muslim ban makes sense to me.”
Reflective of reactions by elected officials on both sides of the aisle, Colgate students across the political spectrum question the legality and practicality of the order. First-year Ryan Zoellner, who identifies as a libertarian, is against Trump’s executive order.
“The ban is entirely inappropriate, probably unconstitutional, and almost certainly counterproductive to the Trump administration’s stated aim of ‘fighting religious terror’; whether or not that is an obfuscation for outright discrimination, I’m not sure,” Zoellner said. “As many conservatives have pointed out, it’s likely that Trump’s actions will actually spur radicalist recruitment. It’s also incredibly disheartening that the ban applies to all refugees, being that many are coming from regions of the world that could not be more protracted from the issues supposedly addressed by the EO.”
Junior Matt De Leo, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, also takes issue with the execution of the order, fearing its repercussions.
“I do support the refugee hiatus from these countries until this country can devise better systems of vetting,” De Leo said. “But I simply cannot support the way in which it was carried out. The rushed nature of this executive order created a situation of confusion which did more to hurt this country than help it. I believe that the situation could have been alleviated if the United States took time to review these seven countries individually. If we are to assume it takes 90 days to review all seven it would take under two weeks to review each individually. By breaking up the review process in such a way, the United States could have done a better job of both protecting its citizens while reducing stress for potential refugees on the ground.”
When it comes to the constitutionality of the order, something that the courts are still working through, Ali cited a 2015 tweet from Pence declaring “Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. [as] offensive and unconstitutional.”
Stowers does not see the constitutional issues as something particularly clear.
“The legality of the Order is still uncertain as both sides have very legitimate and well-grounded arguments,” Stowers said. “I myself am torn between supporting the President’s power over national security and then defending the 14th amendment protections of many people.”
Besides the legal implications, Ali points out the intense humanitarian implications as well.
“Denying visa holders and refugees entrance into the United States because they’re Muslim or come from Muslim-majority countries is flat out discrimination,” Ali said. “My family and I came to the United States in 2001 during the Sudanese civil war in search for a safer and better life. All refugees deserve a safe place to live. Trump should feel ashamed that his executive order turned away so many people in need.”
Stowers agrees that the moral implications cannot be excluded from the debate over the order. It is these humanitarian implications that have spurred much of the resistance at Colgate. Junior Woohee Kim has been showing her opposition by wearing her student visa around her neck on campus to show solidarity with those who are affected by the ban.
“With this order, individuals… were detained and returned even though they held a valid US visa like mine or had legal permission to enter the US,” Kim said. “The order’s rhetoric of ‘protecting our nation’ excludes certain populations and denies their humanity. We are human beings. Those who are affected by the executive order are human beings.”
The faculty has also sprung into action. About 65 faculty and staff members signed a letter to Colgate President, Brian Casey, and Interim Dean of the Faculty and Provost Constance Harsh, calling for a more outspoken and stronger stance in support of students who may find themselves more vulnerable, especially in light of the new order. Although Casey has yet to give a formal response, he has reached out to two of the letter’s authors offering his support of educational programming for the community. One such program, organized by Assistant Professors of Educational Studies Anna Ríos-Rojas and Mark Stern will take place February 21, when Colgate will host a “Know Your Rights” workshop led by The Workers’ Rights Center of Central New York.
Students have also circulated a letter to be sent to Casey and Colgate’s Board of Trustees asking to make Colgate a “sanctuary campus.” Although there is no one definition of what makes a sanctuary campus, it could include refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities when it comes to access to
student information or physical access to campus.
While at the time of publication, over 150 students signed this petition to call for a more critical approach, the Trump administration has threatened to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities, causing some to fear that declaring Colgate a sanctuary campus could result in similar retribution.
“I think the reaction [of the administration] has been appropriately cautious,” Stowers said. “I understand and respect my peers who demand more, but the terrain on which the University is traveling is very uncertain as this administration is not particularly friendly to certain institutions of higher learning.”
The order also could have implications for the refugee population in Utica. The city is home to the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. On Friday, February 10, students and faculty have organized rides to the Refugee Solidarity Rally, Friday, February 10 in Utica. Konosioni Senior Honor Society will also host an event Saturday, February 11 to show support for the refugee community, where they plan to inform the community on how to get involved with the refugee center.
On a national scale, discussion on the ban and its constitutionality continues to brew. At the time of publication, the United States Court of Appeals was hearing the case to decide if Judge Robart’s ruling should stand. The case is likely to continue through the court system until it reaches the Supreme Court.