Tufts reassures students following expansion of Trump administration’s travel ban

The outside of the International Center is pictured on March 4, 2019. Mengqi Irina Wang / The Tufts Daily Archives

 Last week, The Tufts International Center contacted students from three of the countries recently added to the Trump administration’s travel ban to clarify the updated ban’s provisions and to offer a number of travel and counseling resources.

The expansion of Presidential Proclamation 9645 to bar residents of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania from permanently immigrating to the United States was announced on Jan. 31. It will go into effect on Feb. 21.

In response to the updated ban, International Center Director Andrew Shiotani sent an email on Feb. 3 to students from the affected countries who are also non-permanent residents of the United States.

The recipients comprised of 40 students across Tufts’ undergraduate and graduate schools — 29 from Nigeria, nine from Tanzania and two from Myanmar, according to Shiotani. This includes 10 students who have already completed their studies at Tufts but are still sponsored by the university to work in the United States for a brief period. Shiotani confirmed that there are currently no students enrolled at Tufts from the other three countries added to the travel ban.

Shiotani explained in his email that the ban only applies to residents of the six countries who seek to become permanent residents of the United States and does not restrict entry for those with non-immigrant visas.

The latter group includes foreigners with F-1 student visas and J-1 exchange visitor visas, the two main types of documentation for international students. The updated ban also does not apply to people with H-1B temporary worker visas.

“This latest travel ban … has a limited impact on our student population, at least insofar as they’re concerned about their ability to go home and come back as students,” Shiotani said. “We thought it was important to send that message to this group of students, making clear it doesn’t apply to international students on temporary student visas to prevent any anxiety or concern that it’s going to directly impact them.”

Amir Rwegarulira, a senior from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, heard about the ban in the news and through his friends and family.

“I didn’t know the details of the ban at first,” Rwegarulira said. “I was very concerned because my parents are probably going to be here for graduation in May and somehow that might have affected their travel plans.”

Shiotani acknowledged in his email that students from the affected countries may face increased screening at U.S. consulates or upon arrival in the United States. He recommended several precautionary measures to mitigate these situations, including registering travel plans in the Tufts Travel Registry, a confidential database that allows the university to assist community members with any travel problems.

“I would say there’s a general tendency at U.S. Customs and Border checkpoints to be a little bit more stringent [with residents of countries included in the travel ban],” Shiotani said. “It’s just a turbulent time as far as arrivals at airports are concerned [and] ports of entry are concerned because there’s a lot of anxiety.”

Those concerns stem, in part, from high-profile cases in which students at Harvard University and Northeastern University were detained and deported after arriving at Boston Logan International Airport.

No Tufts student has been detained yet by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in recent years, according to Shiotani. He explained that the Tufts International Center would work with the Tufts University Police Department, the Office of the University Counsel and potentially outside immigration attorneys in such a situation.

“It’s always within the realm of possibility that any given person [on] any given day could be either temporarily detained or refused entry, so we want to make sure to minimize the chances of that happening,” Shiotani said.

Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of media relations, reiterated the university’s opposition to the Trump administration’s travel ban.

“We continue to believe that bans such as these have a detrimental impact on higher education in the United States and impede the free exchange of ideas across countries and cultures,” Collins wrote in an email. “We remain committed to protecting and supporting our students and faculty no matter their national origin or citizenship status.”

Collins added that Tufts would consider joining amicus briefs to support legal challenges against the travel ban, as it has done in the past. The university filed joint amicus briefs with many local and national colleges against all three versions of the ban in 2017.

Rwegarulira praised Tufts’ support for its international student community and identified weekly meetings hosted by the International Center, during which students can share ideas and concerns with their peers, as particularly effective. The university’s advocacy also reassures potential international applicants that they will be supported at Tufts, according to Rwegarulira.

“We have people [in Tanzania] who are going through the process of applying to colleges right now, and one of their biggest concerns is [whether] it is okay to spend this amount of time applying to colleges when [they] might not even be able to get into the country after getting admitted,” he said. “I think by speaking out, [Tufts] will provide support and clarification towards current students who are here and also students who are trying to come in.”

Despite Tufts’ support, the travel ban expansion has changed Rwegarulira’s outlook on U.S.-Tanzania relations, as well as his own future in the United States.

“I think this is a sign that ties between Tanzania and the U.S. are not in a good place, and in the future, something even more dangerous could happen,” he said. “If I want to settle down in the U.S., I think I’d have to go through more hurdles than before, and … it might impact my decisions, whether it’s regarding being here or looking for opportunities elsewhere.”


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