On Jan. 27, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations. As hundreds of people were detained in airports across the country in the first days of the order and thousands more protested the ban, 27 Miami students and a small population of Miami faculty wondered what this means for their futures.
It is important to note that all of the students contacted for this story who are personally affected by the executive order were hesitant to be interviewed, even anonymously, for fear of retribution in the current politically tense environment.
Nate French, assistant professor of Comparative Religion, said in the panel lecture, “Let Them In? Refugees, Executive Orders, and National Security,” held Feb. 2 by the Alexander Hamilton Society, two of the 27 Miami students affected were unable to return to campus for the foreseeable future.
However, since the panel, Washington federal judge James Robart has temporarily blocked the ban, meaning those stranded students could potentially get back to campus within the newly created window.
While the legality of the ban has been called into question by a number of human rights organizations such as the ACLU, the former acting Attorney General of the U.S. Sally Yates refused to support the ban and federal district attorney Ann Donnelly granted stays to those who were held and threatened with deportation.
Many questions regarding the ban remain such as whether or not the order could be extended past the 90 day review period and whether more countries could be added to the list at the end of the review period.
One of the largest uncertainties, however, is what options exist for the people affected who live, work or attend school in our country.
“I have no idea what their options are,” Kelsi Sievering, a junior political science major and Arabic student, said. “There are departments throughout campus that will surely help them, but I cannot imagine how terrifying that must be.”
For the students that remain stranded outside of the U.S., their options seem even murkier.
Oliver Young, a junior political science major, said his friend and Miami student Rasheek Rayat is currently stuck in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country, as his visa was revoked days after the executive order took place. Although Bangladesh is not on the seven-country list, Young asserts Rayat was not given a reason for his visa revocation by the U.S. embassy. Therefore, they both assume it is in relation to the executive order.
“As much as the Trump administration says this isn’t a ban on Muslims, there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation for it,” Young said. “Last summer when Rasheek went home to Bangladesh, the possibility of this happening would have never occurred to me.”
Since the ban was temporarily blocked, Rayat has applied for a new I-20, a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, in order to apply for a new visa. He is hoping to be back on campus for the summer term.
Sandra Glazer, senior psychology major and Bosnian refugee, described the atrocities that prompted her family to seek refuge outside of their home country.
“My parents are from Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia,” Glazer said. “Ethnic tensions led to a civil war in which the former Yugoslav army, made up primarily of Orthodox Serbs, set on a course to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the region of any non-Serbs. This primarily targeted Bosnian Muslims but also included minority groups. The killings were often arbitrary as snipers shot into the streets at anybody they saw. Sarajevo was the hardest hit city…. The first bombs fell in 1992.”
Elizabeth Bergman, associate professor of Arabic, expressed concern regarding whether immigrants from the Middle East will ever want to live in the U.S. and share their talents here in the aftermath of the executive order.
“How can they believe [that they will be allowed back in]?” Bergman asked. “How can they say ‘yeah, I’ll get on the airplane to go see my family.’ And this when they may not be able to come back to their home in this country because another executive order may be issued to say they can’t?”
In regards to the talents many of the people affected by the ban have, Glazer wanted to clarify the misconception of refugees needing special treatment economically.
“People from these countries could be of great help to the U.S. – many of them are college-educated professionals that can greatly contribute to our society,” Glazer said. “I think some people may hold a stereotype in mind that these are third-world countries with people that are unskilled who would need a lot of welfare assistance.”
Glazer also expressed her dismay at the effect the ban is having on people who come from situations similar to hers.
“While the order will not specifically affect us, it is still disheartening, however, to see it affect the lives of so many immigrants and refugees who are only seeking a better life just like we did over 20 years ago.” Glazer said. “And for many of these people, it is not a question of simply a better life, but rather to live at all…. These people absolutely need refuge, just like I did.”
Jana Braziel, chair of the Office of Global Intercultural Studies, hopes Oxford may follow Cincinnati’s lead and become a sanctuary town.
“In addition to that, I would urge President Crawford to designate Miami University as a sanctuary campus,” Braziel said. “I’ve already written a letter to him, asking that he follow the lead and example of the University of Michigan who has stated that under no terms would they release the immigration status of students enrolled.”
Braziel further believes that although becoming a sanctuary campus would potentially only be symbolic, symbolism matters. As of the time of print, Crawford has not responded to her letter.
“Miami has an opportunity to take a stand in this situation, just like they would do if it were white kids from Columbus or Chicago,” Young said. “There really is no difference. It is a matter of the ideals of ‘Love and Honor’ that we want to instill in students. We can also fight for them.”
Sievering, Young, Bergman and Braziel all independently described judging the entirety of the Muslim faith based on the actions of few as “cowardly” and “unattractive,” among other things.
“We can’t be afraid of one person when we can save hundreds of people,” Sievering said. “We are all humans. If we experienced Syria’s situation here, we would expect help from the international community, not just hope for it.”
Braziel wants those who fear Islam to be aware of who the true victims are.
“Muslims are predominantly the victims of these terrorist groups,” Braziel said. “Trump’s executive order flouts refugee international law. We are out of touch with what the rest of the world holds dear.”
The refugee international law to which Braziel referred is the 1951 Refugee Convention, a legal document that defines what a refugee is, the rights refugees hold and the legal obligation nations have to protect them. According to this document, a refugee is “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Glazer further described the importance of the U.S. taking a more human-centric approach to the issue of radical terrorism, when many of the victims of these acts are the civilians from these countries.
“Thousands of people have already been killed in these countries by their own government, and when we deny these people entries to this supposed ‘land of immigrants,’ then the blood is also on our hands,” Glazer said.
Bergman believes the xenophobia and fears of terrorism that are at the root of the ban need to be addressed, if America can only focus on the toll the ban is taking on the lives of all those affected.
“We need to ask people what it is about Islam that is threatening to them,” Bergman said. “This is less about facts and more about emotions. All of the statistics back up the logical arguments, but they fail to take into account the very human emotion of fear. There has been too much talking and not enough listening.”
According to The New York Times, the stay granted by the state of Washington in the case State of Washington v. Trump, “is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco….After it rules, an appeal to the Supreme Court seems likely.”
Until then, 27 Miami students will remain unsure of what lies ahead.