Last Friday’s immigration executive order—which has already disrupted academic programming and may have stranded at least one student overseas—has pushed the University past its traditional reticence to weigh in on political issues.
The University scrambled to provide guidance to students and faculty who might not be able to reenter the country under the provisions of the order, were they to leave. Yesterday, University President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Daniel Diermeier sent a letter to President Donald Trump expressing their concern about the order’s impact.
They acknowledged their support for strong national security, but affirmed their desire to see talented immigrants able to study in the United States.
The order, titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry To the United States,” temporarily restricts immigration from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.
The Office of International Affairs (OIA) sent out an e-mail while the executive order was still being drafted to warn international students of its possible effects. It recommended that students from any of the listed countries avoid travelling abroad in light of potential difficulties returning to the country. At the time of writing the e-mail, the OIA believed that students with valid visas would not be affected. “While re-entry into the U.S. with a valid visa should not be affected, it is difficult to anticipate what changes the provisions of the EO may cause and what the risks to such travel might be.”
As soon as the order was implemented, however, it became clear that individuals from those countries could be detained upon entry to the United States even with a valid visa, as students with valid F1 visas at other universities were detained or sent back to their home countries in the wake of the order.
On January 29, Zimmer and Diermeier sent out a message to the campus community “to reaffirm, in the strongest terms, the commitment of the University of Chicago to our international students, faculty, scholars, and staff as well as to those members of our community with undocumented immigration status or who qualify for relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.”
In the letter, they expressed support for the message from the Association of American Universities (AAU), to which the University belongs. The AAU wrote in opposition to the order, urging Trump to rescind it as quickly as possible.
“It is vital to our economy and the national interest that we continue to attract the best students, scientists, engineers, and scholars,” Zimmer wrote.
The OIA is currently undertaking a series of measures to provide information to all concerned students about immigration law and the potential ramifications of changes to U.S. immigration policy. In addition to hosting several informational events centered on immigration law and offering pro-bono consulting to undocumented students, the OIA developed a new page on a website titled Updates on Presidential Executive Orders Affecting Immigration. According to a public response from Sian Beilock, executive vice provost, and Michele Rasmussen, dean of students, the OIA is in contact with members of the campus community from the seven countries.
Tamara Felden, head of the OIA, recognizes the uncertainty of the situation and strongly cautions all students from the seven enumerated countries or other Muslim-majority countries that could potentially be targeted in future actions to avoid travelling outside of the United States and learn their rights under immigration law. On Monday, a discussion regarding the effects of the executive order was held in Saieh Hall, where Felden provided advice to concerned members of the campus community.
On January 28, the president of the University of Michigan affirmed in a statement that it complies with federal requirements “associated with managing its international programs,” but otherwise does not share information like immigration status. Yesterday, a Twitter user wrote to @UChicago: “Take a stronger stand: PLEDGE not to release students’ visa status.” The official University account responded: “UChicago complies with federal law and protects all personally identifiable student education records…including information on immigration status. See: bit.ly/2jMr6vB.”