Closed borders, open campus

Sara Mahdavifard, Vahid Mahdavifard, Mohammad Pakravan, and Leila Ghorbanzaden (left to right) are from Iran, one of the seven countries affected by the ban.

Lauren Sluss, Managing Editor and Joe Wolf

University, community members respond to immigration ban

For Mohammad Pakravan, America was a shining beacon promising a better life. This was the promise that drew him to the U.S. in 2012.

Born in Iran, Pakravan moved to Oregon to get his Master’s degree in renewable and clean energy. Now, he is a Ph.D. student in humanitarian engineering at Oregon State University. Humanitarian engineering is a discipline dedicated to improving the lives of the world’s poorest individuals through science and technology.

Pakravan is also the secretary of the Iranian Students Association, a campus group dedicated to promoting culture and supporting Iranian students at OSU. As an Iranian, Pakravan was directly affected by President Trump’s recently overturned executive order banning travel from seven Muslim majority countries. According to the Federal Register, on Jan. 27 President Trump issued Executive Order 13769, entitled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”. As of Friday, Feb. 3, a federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked the executive order.

According to Vice President of University Relations and Marketing Steve Clark and the OSU Office of Institutional Research, there are 146 students from six of the seven named countries currently enrolled at OSU, as of November 2016. Ninety-five students are from Iran, 31 from Iraq, 14 from Libya, three from Yemen, two from Sudan and one from Syria.

Pakravan’s first reaction to the executive order was shock.

“I couldn’t believe (it), so I went to different news agencies and news websites to make sure that it was correct,” Pakravan said. “When they don’t let you outside it doesn’t matter if you really want to go or not. It’s a prison. It feels like you’re trapped here.”

His initial thoughts also went to his parents, who live in Iran.

“What if anything happens to my parents? Then I can’t visit them, or I should decide either visit them and not continue my study that I’ve almost spent two years on,” Pakravan said.

Pakravan is not the only student from one of these countries with a difficult decision to make. A friend of his, a fellow Iranian Ph.D. student, was already dealing with the news that his father had been hospitalized and possibly dying.

“Right now he’s in a bad spiritual situation: decide whether he should go back and leave the situation here after almost four years of working on his Ph.D. or to remain here and lose a chance to visit his father,” Pakravan said.

Pakravan understands the need for policies to keep Americans safe from terrorist threats.

“However, those rules are specifically going after terrorism,” Pakravan said. “That’s why in (the) last 20 years there haven’t been any terroristic attacks in this country by citizens of these countries right now exposed to (the) discriminatory executive order of President Trump.”

Beyond prohibiting admission from the seven countries, the executive order suspends the admission of all refugees into the United States for 120 days. Entry for Syrian refugees specifically will be suspended indefinitely. Furthermore, all travel from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen will be delayed for 90 days. The order also gives priority to refugees who are religious minorities, namely Christians.

For this reason, some have called this ban unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which bars the government from favoring a certain religion over another.

“My personal reaction (to the ban) was dismay,” said Dr. Rorie Solberg, associate professor of political science at OSU. “Any law or executive order, any regulation that comes out of the federal government that targets one population or another generally sets off constitutional bells and whistles.”

University pledges support

Three days after the executive order was issued, OSU President Ed Ray released a statement to all students. Ray claimed he was “angry and disappointed” over the executive order, and reassured steadfast dedication to Muslim students moving forward.

“Going forward, our pledge of service to others will never change,” Ray said in his email. “This university will remain unwavering in its commitment to inclusive excellence, social justice, diversity of all kinds and the safety of all people.”

Although 146 students from the seven countries listed on the order currently attend OSU, none were in transit at the time the order was issued, according to Vice President for University Marketing and Relations Steve Clark.

“To our knowledge, none have been immediately affected in terms of being involved in travel which was interrupted. I don’t know if they have travel plans that may be interrupted at this time,” Clark said. “But, we do know that they are immediately and personally affected by the uncertainty associated with the executive order in terms of their ability to return home at any time during that stay on travel.”

The executive order is already affecting students still in Corvallis, according to Clark.

“These are real people with real needs who are being impacted and the associated uncertainty is causing them not only to stress but it may impact their ability to remain enrolled here,” Clark said.

According to Mark Hoffman, OSU vice provost for international programs, the university is already taking steps to ensure the optimal situations for students who potentially would not be able to return to the country.

“If we have an individual that travels and is not able to come back, we will do everything we can to decrease the impact on their educational record, and decrease the impact on their educational program,” Hoffman said. “If it means helping them withdraw from classes, handling situations for them while they are not here, we will partner with the colleges and make sure it happens in the least impactful way.”

Moving forward, Clark assured admittance of students at OSU will remain the same.

“We will continue to admit qualified students to Oregon State University, regardless of their immigration status or nationality,” Clark said. “We do not use nationality as a judgement in our admissions process.”

However, the executive order has the potential to affect future international enrollment at OSU, according to Hoffman.

“We are getting some feedback that students are hesitant to apply to our institution because they are uncertain if they do get in if they will be able to attend,” Hoffman said.

Although the OSU international student population may potentially decrease, it most likely will not be long term.

According to Julianna Betjemann, director of student experience at INTO OSU, international education has proven to be resilient in the past.

“People get scared and they take their finger off the button. People wait and see, and six weeks later they still come,” Betjemann said. “Yes it has an impact, and then it opens back up again. There’s that hopefulness.”

According to Shain Panzer, director of international admissions and academic support for OSU, student’s current perception of the university and the U.S. as a whole plays a role into determining if international education will be affected by the executive order.

“If people were at OSU, they know what this place is about and who we are,” Panzer said. “They know this is a place where they are welcome, then that changes the perception, compared to someone who doesn’t actually know OSU, or just referencing the U.S. as a whole.”

Along with International Programs, INTO OSU is working to provide support for students impacted by the order, according to Bob Gilmour, executive director of INTO OSU.

“For us it’s more a question of finding a balance between reassuring people and getting messages out there, and at the same time not scaring people,” Gilmour said. “Our role is to provide reassurance and support, as well as an open door for students if they want to come and talk to us.”

INTO OSU is dedicated to provide assistance to students, according to Betjemann.

“People are willing to work on their behalf. It’s complicated because I know a lot of students are afraid of coming forward,” Betjemann said. “I think there are a lot of ways you can have your anonymity protected and still get support or raise your issues.”

Administrative support in the past week has already been noticed by Pakravan.

“We appreciate all the support we’ve received from university leaders,” Pakravan said.

Impacting student lives

When she was 18-years-old, Marwah Alzabidi packed up her life. She left her friends, family and home behind in Yemen to go study in a country she believed would give her greater opportunities—the United States.

For the past five years, Alzabidi has worked to better her life through education. As a junior at OSU studying chemical engineering, Alzabidi spends most of her time studying or working at the Arnold Service Center.

“I like the U.S., especially Corvallis,” Alzabidi said. “It has really nice people. After graduating I was planning on not going back to my country and getting a job here because I like it.”

Now, the country that she believed to be the land of opportunity is preventing her from seeing her family. Alzabidi and her family felt the instant impact of the executive order.

“Everyone felt really bad. It’s heartbreak, actually,” Alzabidi said. “We feel like we are not wanted here anymore.”

Although Alzabidi grew up in Yemen, she was born in Corvallis. Alzabidi’s father attended OSU to earn his Ph.D., and finished his degree when Alzabidi was two years old. The family then moved back to Yemen.

After finishing high school in Yemen, Alzabidi moved back to Corvallis to study at OSU, and currently lives with her mother and brother Marwan. Her father and other brothers still live in Yemen, and the Alzabidi’s had plans before the ban to reunite in the U.S.

“I felt really sad. My brothers were hoping to come here. It’s better they live here with us, and we were hoping to bring my sister here who is living in Malaysia. But I think now it’s hard, and probably not possible to do anymore,” Alzabidi said.

Alzabidi, her mother and brother were planning on visiting Yemen this summer for the month Ramadan, a key Islamic holiday, and to see the rest of the family. After the executive order, however, those travel plans are on hold.

“I really want to go back to Yemen and visit my dad and brother, but I can’t,” Alzabidi said.

Although Alzabidi is an American citizen, she fears she will be affected by this executive order.

“Even if I am a U.S. citizen, it’s still hard to travel. Some people are saying that even if you are a U.S. citizen but are from Yemen, you can’t come back,” Alzabidi said. “I feel unsafe. Now I feel like I’m not going to see my family again.”

Alzabidi is not the only OSU student affected by this executive order. Along with the 146 OSU students from countries named in the executive order, other OSU students from other predominantly Muslim countries have already felt the indirect effects of the ban.

One of these students is Salar Khan, finance coordinator for the Muslim Student Association, who is from Pakistan.

“I need to see my family. I need to go home,” Khan said. “But I’m not sure whether I will be able to make it back into the U.S.”

Although Pakistan is not one of the seven countries banned through the executive order, Khan fears he will still be affected in the future. He has applied to Ph.D. programs within the U.S. and already has a few admissions. He was planning to return to Pakistan in June after graduating from his OSU master’s program, but is unsure if he would be able to return to the U.S.

This uncertainty has been felt throughout other facets of the Muslim community, according to Khan.

“People are worried. The Muslim students with whom I meet, they worried because they can’t go home,” Khan said. “All those students who come from those countries, if there is any emergency and they have to go home, they can’t go. Their education is at stake; their degrees are at stake.”

Members of the Ettihad Cultural Center share these sentiments. For ECC member Hawii Boriyo, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering, the uncertainty of the future is concerning.

“It’s scary because things are so open. Things can change anytime, and it happens so suddenly,” Boriyo said. “One minute you’re thinking you’re going to go home, and the next minute you can’t. You just don’t know.”

These impacts of the executive order were discussed Tuesday, Jan. 31 with other Corvallis community members. The ECC opened its doors for one hour to anyone who wished to respond to the executive order. Over 150 students, faculty and community members packed the ECC to share personal stories and concerns. One main concern echoed throughout the room was the ambiguity of events to come, according to Safi Ahmad, ECC student leadership liaison. According to Ahmad, “There was a lot of uncertainty around the room and a lot of questions people didn’t know the answers to.”

Although future repercussions of the executive order are yet to be determined, Volunteer Coordinator of the ECC Khawater Hussien recognizes immediate impacts.

“The one thing I’m afraid of is it legitimizes Islamophobia,” Hussien said. “People see that the government is taking action on it, and people feel like they should take action too. I know that’s something that many of us are afraid of.”

Ahmed echoed the fear of the governmental legitimization of Islamophobia.

“In the beginning when Trump started running, I think the fear was that he was giving power to the people to be discriminatory, and accept Islamophobia. But now, people are scared of that, as well as the government. That is two times scarier,” Ahmad said. “You can go to a place where people are accepting of you, but now you have people who have authority over you, and they can have power over you and rule you, and basically decide what your future is.”

Despite immediate and potential impacts from the executive order, Khan urges students to take action.

“They just need to reach out to those people and speak their heart. Nothing to hide,” Khan said. “It’s not that if they are born in Iraq, it’s not their fault. If you are born in the U.S. , it’s not something you can control. You were born here because your parents were here. It doesn’t matter. It’s just one earth, you know? It’s just one earth.”

Khan remains hopeful for the future of the U.S. because of the similarities between all people living in the country, regardless of religion or heritage.

“We have one God, we have one earth, we have one heaven. We all eat, we all sleep, we all drink the same water. We share all those things. We have the same feelings,” Khan said. “Students from these countries shouldn’t feel unprivileged. It’s a matter of time, things will be better.”

Politicians speak out

Oregon politicians have also weighed in on the ban, expressing a commitment to protecting Muslim Oregonians.

In an official statement Gov. Kate Brown described the executive order as divisive and discriminatory.

“As Governor, I will uphold the civil and human rights of all who call Oregon home. My staff is studying the recent Executive Orders to determine what effects they may have on Oregonians, and I will explore options to keep Oregon a safe place for everyone.”

Locally, state Sen. Sara Gelser of Senate District 8 also spoke on the ban, in no uncertain terms.

“This executive order this weekend is un-American and it’s immoral,” Sen. Gelser said. “It’s horrifying both for what it says, how it undermines our strategic relationships with nations that we need to work with to fight terrorism, and it is also horrifying for the carelessness with which it was implemented.”

Sen. Gelser went on to describe how the travel ban could have larger effects on all Americans, not just Muslims.

“If a person who is a legal resident of the United States could get on an airplane on Saturday morning to come home, land, be detained and sent away, what is to say that that can’t happen to you to me or to anybody that has a green card,” Sen. Gelser said

Sen. Gelser also noted the lack of media attention given to the executive orders freezing grants from the EPA and the USDA.

“That directly impacts research at Oregon State University. That impacts students, that impacts research, that impacts our ability to continue moving forward with scientific discovery that makes our nation better and that really strengthens an institution like Oregon State University that works really hard to pull in those federal grants.”

Sen. Gelser also discussed what citizens can do about the ban.

“I would encourage people to continue speaking out. I think keeping the focus on what we believe in, which is inclusivity and equality and freedom, is really really important,” Sen. Gelser said. “It’s tempting when you get angry to call people names, to physically express your frustration–that does not help.”

“What helps is staying with our values, speaking loudly about them and making sure that this president knows that the people of the United States are going to hold him accountable and are going to do everything in our power to protect the institutions that we all know and love and rely upon,” Sen. Gelser added.