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Fear and unrest after Trump’s ban

Fear and unrest after Trump’s ban

When Ghada Baqbouq ’19 enrolled at Kenyon, she hoped that her parents, who live in Damascus, Syria, would be able to attend her graduation. Now, she fears that even she won’t be able to attend.

Baqbouq, a Syrian citizen in the U.S. on a student visa, is one of the approximately 90,000 people who may be affected by President Donald Trump’s latest executive order, according to State Department statistics reported by the Washington Post. Signed Friday, Jan. 27., the executive order blocks citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days. It also indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. and suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days.

Since Trump signed the executive order, American law enforcement agencies, human rights organizations, foreign countries and Trump administration officials alike have publicly grappled with what the government’s order means and to whom it applies. Tens of thousands have protested in cities and airports across the country, as hundreds of lawyers flooded major airports to offer support to those held for questioning or denied entry into the country.

The executive order immediately became a central topic of discussion on Kenyon’s campus as well. As soon as Marne Ausec, the director of the Center for Global Engagement who works closely with international students on campus, learned about the immigration ban, she reached out to the students, faculty and staff members that might be affected by the executive order. “Our advice [to citizens of these seven countries] is don’t leave the country,” Ausec said. “Based on what we understand of the order, you won’t get back in.”

All Kenyon community members from these countries were in the U.S. when the executive order was announced and, as of now, they are not at risk of being removed from the U.S., Ausec said. But Ausec is concerned about these individuals’ ability to return to their home countries during spring and summer breaks.

Baqbouq was supposed to go to Belize to install solar panels in conjunction with a Kenyon initiative over Spring Break. “I had my ticket booked and everything and now I can’t go,” Baqbouq said. “So far, it also doesn’t look like I can go home this summer.”   

Associate Professor of History Nurten Kilic-Schubel, a dual citizen of Turkey and the U.S., said she was planning to attend a conference held by the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies in Iran. “Now I fear I may not be able to get in there, as an American citizen, and I may not be allowed back into the country because I went to Iran,” Kilic-Schubel said.

Two of President Trump’s other executive orders could also impact undocumented and immigrant students on Kenyon’s campus by expanding the power of immigration officers to deport and jail undocumented individuals.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Nancy Powers, whose research focuses on immigration, said these executive orders are likely to impact Kenyon students because there are undocumented students on campus. Even those students who are fully documented may have family members who are undocumented.

On Jan. 28, President Sean Decatur issued a statement emphasizing that Kenyon does not share information about the immigration status of any students. During a private meeting with students and faculty, Decatur reaffirmed his commitment to providing students unable to return home with housing. In an interview with the Collegian, he also confirmed that Kenyon is in contact with a legal counselor who is advising the administration on how to handle immigration cases on campus.

Last Tuesday, Middle Eastern Student Alliance (MESA) Co-President Emma Conover-Crockett ’17 organized a group of 15 to 20 student activists to talk about supporting undocumented and immigrant students. They planned to meet with Decatur to discuss Kenyon’s policies on these matters. On Friday night, President Trump signed the immigration ban, bringing the issue to the forefront of campus-wide discussions.

On Jan. 30, 105 Kenyon faculty members publically declared their support for those affected by signing the “Kenyon Faculty Statement of Support for International Community of Scholars,” a statement that condemns Trump’s executive order as “nothing more than a Muslim ban by another name” and calls on the College administration to “take steps to protect and support the Kenyon community members who are affected by Trump’s executive order.” 

One of the signees is Professor of Religious Studies Vernon Schubel. Schubel expressed concern that this ban could stunt Kenyon’s efforts to create an inclusive Asian and Middle Eastern studies department.

“For us to maintain an [inclusive] program like that, we have to have access to be able to attract students from around the world, but also to attract faculty with expertise from those parts of the world,” Schubel said. “The Syrian refugee crisis is morally much more important than the academic impact, but as a scholar, I don’t want us to diminish the horrible impact that this bone-headed decision by the Trump administration has on our ability to maintain Asian and Middle East Studies program.”

On Sunday, MESA sent an All-Student email inviting students to an open meeting about how the Kenyon community could respond to the executive order. Twenty-four people attended the meeting, during which students discussed the costs and benefits of becoming a “sanctuary campus,” a label used by campuses that adopt policies to protect undocumented people, as well as possible events students could organize to spread awareness.

Since this meeting, groups of students have met with faculty and staff to discuss what comes next. Jacky Neri Arias ’13, the assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, coordinated with students to organize a “teach-in” event about President Trump’s recent executive orders, which will occur today at 4:10 p.m. in the Alumni Dining Room in Peirce Dining Hall.

Neri Arias emphasized that the Kenyon administration is committed to supporting students who may be affected.

“Any executive actions that create boundaries for our students do not mean that … Kenyon will suddenly stop supporting students,” Neri Arias said. “It just means that things might be harder for these students. We are committed to supporting them.”

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