OVIS hosts info session discussing travel ban

by Alex Fredman | 2/21/17 2:15am

On Monday, the Office of Visa and Immigration Services hosted an information session to address President Donald Trump’s recent executive order restricting entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The executive order, signed by the president on Jan. 27, initiated a 90-day ban on the admission of non-U.S. citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The act is currently subject to a temporary restraining order pending review of its constitutionality by the court system.

Around 50 students, staff and community members gathered in Kellogg Auditorium at the Geisel School of Medicine for the hour-long information session, which was co-sponsored by Geisel and the Office of the Provost.

The session began with a statement by geography professor Richard Wright, whose research focuses on immigration. Wright spoke about the prohibition of refugees, especially those from Syria.

Wright said that while the U.S. admits around one million immigrants per year, only five to 10 percent of those are refugees. He added that in contrast, Canada, a country whose population is about one-tenth the size of the U.S., has taken 40,000 refugees from Syria alone since November 2015.

“We live in a globalized, mobilized world, but this is a serious problem we face as human beings,” Wright said. “Rather than retreat from this, we should move forward and realize our responsibilities in this particular moment.”

Wright added that there is currently no Dartmouth course that specifically studies refugees, though he is in the process of creating a course addressing refugees, migrants and diasporas.

Following Wright’s remarks, director of OVIS Susan Ellison spoke about the travel ban section of the executive order, as well as the College’s response to the order. Wright described how College President Phil Hanlon joined in a letter with 47 other college and university presidents criticizing the order earlier this month.

The final speaker, Dartmouth’s general counsel Robert Donin, discussed the College’s participation in writing an amicus brief with 16 other universities, including all eight Ivy League schools, for a lawsuit against the ban currently pending in the Eastern District of New York. Donin said the brief focused on the substantive impact the executive order had on institutions of higher learning, rather than the order’s constitutionality.

“You’d be hard pressed to find any sector of the U.S. economy or U.S. society that is more impacted by the executive order than higher education,” Donin said.

After the completion of the opening remarks, the session was opened for a question and answer period. Attendees asked questions regarding resources for students seeking help, ways for community members to help impacted individuals and the College’s preparation for scenarios such as the re-evaluation of work visas.

Ellison said that many members of the faculty and professional staff have H1-B work visas and that a leaked White House memo raised the possibility of the executive branch reevaluating these visas.

During the question and answer session, Ellison also mentioned that an immigration working group consisting of senior administration members has been formed to address potential issues affecting the Dartmouth community.

In an interview after the conference, Ellison said that currently there is no threat of H1-B visas being revoked. She added that the status of undocumented students also remains the same, as the Trump administration has not indicated a willingness to change the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers work permit eligibility and a renewable two-year period deferring deportation to undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors.

Ellison also said that OVIS was not aware of any Dartmouth students or faculty originally from the seven countries affected by the ban who were out of the country when it was issued.

Charlene Dunaway Med’19, a Geisel student who attended the event, said that she was grateful that OVIS held the session, because it demonstrated the College’s support for international students.

“Being an international student who is not from one of those seven countries, I ... understand how difficult it is for other people who are going through this, and I couldn’t imagine being in their position right now,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway added that the executive order adds difficulties for international students who have to continue their studies while maintaining a concern about international events.

A second information session will be held the afternoon of Tuesday, Feb. 21 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

When the order took effect, a chaotic scene broke out the next day in airports across the country, as people from the seven listed countries were prohibited from leaving the airports. The rollout of the order sparked a series of protests across the country and lawsuits against the federal government.

On Feb. 3, a federal district court in the Western District of Washington issued a temporary restraining order, effectively blocking the implementation of the order nationwide. Six days later, a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the restraining order.

Although initially signaling that appellate court’s decision would be appealed to the Supreme Court, the White House has not done so, instead raising the possibility that a revised executive order may be issued.

In an interview, Wright said that historically, extraordinary executive orders, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order forcing the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, have been held up by the courts. He said that if the White House issues further executive orders on immigration, how the order is worded will make a difference.

“The devil is going to be in the details — you have to look at how [the executive orders are] worded and how effectively they can be challenged, if they can be challenged at all,” Wright said.