Excitement. Outrage. Relief. Fear.
These were the feelings that arose as a result of President Donald Trump’s executive orders to secure the United States border. Excitement that a president kept his promise. Outrage the orders targeted minorities and families might be ripped apart. Relief that the U.S. would be safe from acts of terror. Fear that seeing family might be impossible.
These executive orders — one meant to halt travel to and from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, and another two intended to secure the southern border — have affected students nationwide.
At the University of Idaho, the original executive order, commonly known as the travel ban, caused some international students to panic, said International Programs Director Susan Bender. One student didn’t know if he should postpone getting married in his home country until he finished his degree. Another worried her parents might be unable to come from Iran to see her graduation.
Bender said often times, the family, and sometimes extended family, puts in a lot of effort to send a child to school in the U.S.
“To be able to come and attend that graduation and celebrate that accomplishment is really important,” she said.
Hanieh Nezakati, an electrical engineering student from Iran, said the ban would have made it so families would be unable to visit students who might have been away from their home for years. Nezakati planned to have her father and brother visit later this spring, but they had to cancel their tickets when the ban came into effect. It would be the first time she could spend quality time with her father in more than five years.
“My father was emotionally, really, really upset,” she said. “Because he had plans for this, you know, for a long time.”
Since the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the original travel ban, students can go through with their plans. Nezakati’s family will be able to visit, but she said it cost an extra $300 to change the tickets and disrupted preparations her brother made for his business for the time he would be gone.
The revised executive order, halted March 15, would not have impacted current visa holders. At least, not legally.
A greater effect of these orders at UI is a shift of perceived culture, said President Chuck Staben.
“We try to be very welcoming toward international students, but I think that just the fact that a travel ban is out there is sort of off-putting to a lot of our international community,” Staben said.
He said even students and faculty who came from countries not listed in the executive order had concerns they were less wanted in the U.S.
Staben issued a statement within three days of the initial executive order to reassure students and faculty that diversity and the international perspective is important at UI.
Staben said some people expressed concern about the statement being political, though most responded favorably.
“I don’t see this as a political stance,” Staben said. “I see this as providing objective information about events that may affect them, as students or faculty, or may affect us as an academic unit.”
Erik Eyre, a mechanical engineering student at the university who supports the executive order, said he believes international students enrich the university.
“If people choose to ostracize other people just because they perceive that they’re going to be different instead of taking the time to get to know them … then that’s an absolute loss on their part,” Eyre said.
However, he said it is important that the risks of letting dangerous people into the country are addressed.
“If we can’t verify who’s coming in, and then months into the administration there is a terrorist attack of any size of people who came from these areas, politically, that would have been extremely detrimental to the credibility of the administration,” he said.
Another executive order the university has addressed is one that effectually increases the enforcement of immigration law, especially in regard to immigration from Mexico.
Staben said the main concern for UI college students is often about family or friends.
“Hispanic college students are mostly the children of immigrants, and they’re not immigrants themselves,” he said.
Kate Evans, a professor in the College of Law with a focus on immigration law, said the college reached out to help people go through the naturalization process in Boise, Moscow and Southern Idaho. She said they have also endeavored to educate students on their constitutional rights and what they can do to protect themselves.
“The clinic has been working with students both at WSU and at University of Idaho regarding some concerns that students have about the risks they face, just by going to school,” she said.
She said Faculty Senate is working on a draft to ensure the university follows proper policy when giving out information about students or letting Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on campus grounds.
The university has also signed on with the American Council of Education both in a letter of support for DACA students and in a letter expressing concern about the initial travel ban, along with around 600 other institutions of higher learning.
“Personally I feel pretty positive about almost anybody who wants to pursue his or her education,” Staben said.