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US Universities Speak Out Against Trump’s Travel Ban 

  • Amanda Scott

Justin Cox of the National Immigration Law Center, representing all the plaintiffs, right, with Omar Jadwat of ACLU, speaks to reporters outside the courthouse in Greenbelt, Maryland, March 15, 2017.

A group of 31 U.S. colleges and universities is supporting a legal challenge to President Donald Trump’s restrictions on travel to the United States by refugees and visitors from certain Muslim-majority countries, asserting the executive order would harm their efforts to provide quality education and promote the free exchange of ideas.

Federal courts have suspended enforcement of Trump’s immigration orders, at least temporarily, but legal action is underway by several states that hope to make the temporary restraining order permanent. The university group, including many of the most prestigious and elite U.S. institutions of higher education, filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in a federal appeals court that is to hear arguments in the case in May.

Harvard, Yale and all other members of the eastern universities known as the Ivy League, plus renowned schools across the country, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the University of Chicago to Stanford University in California, all joined in the court statement, which seeks to support efforts by Maryland, one of the state governments trying to overturn President Trump’s immigration orders.

The six countries affected by President Donald Trump's temporary travel ban -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The six countries affected by President Donald Trump's temporary travel ban -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Lengthy court battle expected

The federal government, which contends Trump’s policies are intended to protect U.S. national security, has appealed against a lower court’s ruling that suspended enforcement of the president’s executive order. Regardless of how appeals courts rule on these cases, many legal analysts expect the dispute will ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

In their brief — a statement filed in court Friday known as amicus curiae (from a friend of the court) — the universities asked for Trump’s travel ban to be permanently rejected because it limits their ability to attract top-tier academic talent from around the world and adversely affects their current faculty members and students.

In a related development, a federal judge in Hawaii extended indefinitely his order suspending enforcement of the Trump orders. State officials in Hawaii had specifically argued that the presidential order would harm to state-funded schools by adversely affecting their ability to accept students and recruit faculty. The federal government appealed the ruling in Honolulu to an appellate court in San Francisco, which will hear the case later.

The president’s executive order — a directive to government departments that does not require approval by Congress — temporarily blocked all refugees trying to enter the United States and sought to halt all travel to the United States by anyone from six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Some travelers who acquired valid U.S. visas before the executive order was issued March 6 would be exempted from the order, but the universities and other opponents of the president’s policies contend the directive has had and will have a chilling effect on many foreign travelers considering a trip to the U.S., as well as foreign nationals currently living in the country who may now be reluctant to attempt trips abroad.

Trump’s first immigration order failed

The current executive order was Trump’s second attempt to impose immigration restrictions. An order he signed January 27, less than a week after his inauguration, was stopped by the courts.

Judges who issued restraining orders against both executive orders cited as one of their reasons Trump’s frequent pledges during last year’s political campaign that he would ban Muslims from entering the country.

The universities wrote in their court statement: “Recognizing the invaluable contributions of international students, faculty, staff and scholars, [the universities] make significant efforts to attract the most talented individuals from around the globe. The executive order at issue here, like its predecessor, threatens [U.S. universities’] ability to continue to attract these individuals and thus to meet their goals of educating tomorrow’s leaders.”

The immigration order as written, the universities said, “divides current students and their families, impairs the ability of American universities to draw the finest international talent, and inhibits the free exchange of ideas.”

The 40-page brief argues that enrolling and employing international students, faculty and scholars benefits not just the United States, but the entire world:

“International students, faculty, and scholars make significant scientific, technological, social and political contributions ... above and beyond the benefits to [their university] communities.”

Travel ban could hurt US economy

The document quoted estimates by the Association of International Educators that during the 2015-2016 academic year, international students contributed $32.8 billion to the United States economy and supported or contributed to the creation of 400,000 American jobs. Other estimates range far higher, both in terms of economic activity and U.S.-based jobs.

Reducing the international presence on American college campuses will diminish the academic experience nationwide, the court brief stated.

“This diversity promotes the free exchange of ideas, encouraging individuals to consider issues from different perspectives and giving students and faculty a greater understanding of our global, pluralistic society,” it said.

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