UB ensures safety of students affected by immigration ban

Office of International Education provides support to students, faculty and staff

The university is currently aiding international UB students, faculty and staff affected by President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.

Trump’s executive order blocked citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S for 90 days. One hundred and twenty two international UB students are from the seven countries listed in President Trump’s travel ban, according to Stephen Dunnett, vice provost for International Education. Of these students, 110 are from Iran, seven are from Syria, two are from Iraq, two are from Yemen and one from Sudan. Twenty faculty, staff and scholars are from the seven countries, Dunnett said.

UB's Office of International Education is spearheading the initiative to provide support to students, faculty and staff who are unable to return to the U.S.

Dunnett held a press conference on Monday where he discussed the impact of the executive order at the university. He said he is concerned about the “traditional openness” of higher education and understands that some parents might fear sending their children to school in the U.S.

The Spectrum followed up with Dunnett for updates on those affected a few days after the press conference.

The university is unable to disclose the names of the students, faculty and staff affected by the executive order as per the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) law. Dunnett said the university’s top priority is to protect the privacy of these individuals.

“These are people who are traumatized and fearful and they’ve told us that they don’t want the media descending upon them,” he said. “These students are already highly stressed. They’re frightened. They’re worried that the next ruling that will come out of Washington will be ‘all of those students from those countries will be banned from the United States.’"

Dunnett was able to disclose that there is a graduate architecture student who is currently stuck in Iran. A faculty member who was stuck at the Peace Bridge between Buffalo and Canada has been able to return to the U.S., according to Dunnett.

Dunnett said he has received emails from international students who fear they might be deported from the country.

“I got an email from an Iranian student saying ‘I just don’t feel secure in the United States.’ It just breaks my heart that somebody who’s in the United States doesn’t feel safe in our country. What do I say to them? ‘Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen?’ Right now I’m fearful about what [will happen] next.”

The executive order also banned refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days and barred Syrian refugees from the country for an unspecified time period, according to The New York Times.

During the press conference Dunnett said UB leans on international students for revenue and growth, and international students contribute to the globalization of the UB community.

“We want the very best students we can get, domestic and international, and we do not look at their nationality,” Dunnett said.

Dunnett fears undocumented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students may be “the next target.”

UB President Satish Tripathi issued a letter to the university discussing the executive order.

“Until there is clarity and legal analysis of the executive order, the university is advising that affected members of the university community monitor this evolving situation to assess how they may be impacted,” Tripathi said in the statement.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee also held a meeting where they discussed the executive order.

Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the SUNY Board of Trustees issued a memorandum on Jan. 24, which stated SUNY university police departments do not participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law unless they are legally compelled to do so.

This resolution’s purpose is “to reiterate that commitment and to assure members of the SUNY community that SUNY will utilize the full panoply of legal protections currently available to protect such students from discrimination, harassment and unwarranted intrusions into their privacy.”

The SUNY system enrolls roughly 22,140 international students from 180 countries, including 320 students from the countries affected by the travel ban, according its website.

Tripathi said the memorandum “is consistent with guidance issued recently by the New York State Attorney General regarding the participation of local law enforcement in federal immigration enforcement.”

He advised students to follow SUNY’s urge to suspend travel plans to the seven countries affected by the executive order. Tripathi also urged students, faculty and staff affected to keep in contact with UB’s Office of International Education regularly.

Student Association President Matt Rivera said that SA has been communicating with UB professors and administrators to help students who may be stuck in their countries to keep up with their schoolwork.

Rivera feels a bit “helpless” with the situation, but encourages students to focus on unity as they organize.

“We’re so unsure of what’s going to happen governmentally in the next few weeks and months, everybody’s trying to tread carefully because if you end up spending your efforts to create some march or on-campus event to unite the student body, then in two weeks something worse happens, as sad as it sounds, the students may not feel as welcome to participate again in something,” he said. “It’s really rough territory if I’m being honest, for lack of a better term, it’s pretty shitty.”

Ashley Inkumsah is the senior news editor and can be reached at Ashley.inkumsah@ubspectrum.com.