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Faculty, staff discuss travel ban at forum

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Melissa Osgood
Raza Rumi, Steve Yale-Loehr and Brendan O'Brien
Lindsay France/University Photography
Raza Ahmad Rumi, a Pakistani journalist and author, speaks during a panel discussion on President Trump's immigration policies, as Stephen Yale-Loehr, left, adjunct professor of law, and Brendan O'Brien, director of the International Student and Scholars Office, listen Feb. 15 in Warren Hall.

In the wake of President Donald Trump's proposed travel ban prohibiting people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, students and faculty gathered to discuss immigration policy on campus Feb. 15.

Students in attendance raised a number of concerns to a panel moderated by Matthew Hall, core faculty member in the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) and associate professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management.

Issues surrounding American immigration policy are “incredibly complex,” given the numerous policies involved, Hall said.

The travel ban, specifically, is a symptom of the larger malaise [Islamophobia] that has been growing in the U.S. over the last decade, according to Raza Ahmad Rumi, an author and journalist who is a native of Pakistan. After speaking to people from his home country, Rumi said there is a marked sense of fear regarding the immigration policies set forth by the Trump administration.

Most of the panel discussion focused on immigration policy as it relates to Cornell’s nearly 5,000 international students. Brendan O'Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), said Cornell has about 35 students from the countries affected by the “immigration ban.” 

“Immigrant students face all the challenges that other students face, except there is an added dimension of adjusting,” O’Brien said. He said ISSO supports international students and helps them continue in their academic programs.

Cornell also has committed to offer free consultations through the Law School to people who are directly affected by the executive order, according to panelist Steve Yale-Loehr, adjunct professor of law. Cornell University has joined 16 other colleges and universities on an amicus brief filed in support of an immigration case in U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of the travel ban, Yale-Loehr said.

Some international students asked the panelists about self-protection. Yale-Loehr said everyone in the United States, whether documented or undocumented, has constitutional rights – specifically, the right to remain silent, which they should exercise, he said.

O’Brien said that there is no absolute certainty about whether or not it is safe for international scholars and students to travel outside of the country.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” O’Brien said. “There is an element that is unknown … and we understand how difficult that is when you are making personal plans, research, travel, the need to see your family.

"Well over 99 percent of the cases [students] are going to be fine if they have the right documents, but the problem is if you’re that 1 percent, it’s very difficult.”

Panelists also discussed presidential powers, specifically whether Trump’s executive orders are within his power. Presidents and Congress have a lot of power in terms of immigration because it touches on national sovereignty and foreign relations, O’Brien said. Trump has cited a federal provision, in effect since 1952, that gives the president power to cancel visas for any individual or class of people.

Because of long governmental processes, changes to work visas and policies such as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which can extend an undocumented immigrant’s stay in the U.S., will not be put into immediate effect, he said.

Barbara Esuoso ’19 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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