Donald Trump’s presidency is still in its infancy but it’s already embroiled in controversy. And nothing has generated more ire, more protests - or more cheers from his supporters - than the travel ban he signed into effect just one week after entering office. In a world dominated by news of refugees fleeing Syria, ISIS terrorist attacks, and fears of illegal immigration, Trump asserted that his ban was necessary to help protect Americans. Almost immediately, demonstrations erupted around the US as many Americans protested what they believed was an inherently racist act banning Muslims.
On February 3, a Seattle federal judge put a temporary block on Trump’s executive order which allowed nationals of those countries to again enter the US. On February 9, in a unanimous decision, three judges from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Seattle court’s ruling. However, Trump has vowed to have his order reinstated. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible.
Approximately 200 TU/e students and staff could be affected by the travel ban if it goes back into effect. And even without an official ban, many people from the seven affected countries - and other predominately - Muslim nations of the world - are now afraid to travel to the US given the potential uncertainty and chaos they might encounter at the airport.
Political Move or Safety?
Mahmood Mirzakhalili (Department of Electrical Engineering) is from Iran and believes his country’s inclusion on the travel ban list was politically-motivated: “It has nothing to do with terrorism or Islam. It’s about political relations. As far as I know Iran isn’t involved in any terrorist activities. If Donald Trump really wanted to fight terrorism he should’ve put Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on the list. He gave the example of 9/11 but 15 of those terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. If you want to fight terrorism, you have to look at the history of the terrorist activities in your country and then ban those countries.”
Many critics of Trump’s travel ban agree with Mirzakhalili, asserting that the US president’s executive order was a fearmongering tactic aimed at eventually keeping all Muslims out of the US. Jadallah Haj Mustafa is a Syrian refugee working towards a master’s degree in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He says the travel ban doesn’t make sense: “I think it’s weird. They say these seven countries, these people can’t come to the States because they’re afraid of terrorists. But there are many radical, extremely religious countries and they’re not part of the ban. I need someone to explain to me how this works.”
Mustafa says he recognizes Trump’s political strategy from his own country. “If this is what he’s doing [to dupe US citizens, ed.], then he’s smart. It’s about politics and economics; not really about terrorists. It’s what politicians do and we have these people in Syria, too, who believe whatever they’re told. They’re still supporting the president. They’re watching the official TV channel and seeing videos of children getting killed and they say, ‘Oh, it’s fake. How could that happen?’ You can control them easily by giving a fancy speech. It can happen everywhere.”
Banning Beta Brains
Bart Knijnenburg is a TU/e alumnus (Department of Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences) and currently an assistant professor at Clemson University in South Carolina. Because he’s working for an American university, Knijnenburg has seen first-hand how the travel ban affected the academic community. “I’m on the organizing committee for several international conferences and I emailed several colleagues right away to warn them of the implications. It doesn’t matter where your conference is, you will be affected [by the travel ban, ed.]. I also got an email from an Iranian student who’s been stuck in Iran for 7 or 8 months while his visa was under review. This student found out that his application had been cancelled and now he doesn’t know: is this permanent? Will he have to go through the visa application process all over again?”
“I think it’s really affecting the scientific community,” says Iranian PhD candidate Sameneh Abbasi (Department of Biomedical Engineering), “because it’s very important to have the possibility to present your work, talk and meet your fellow researchers, and exchange ideas. But when you get banned just because of your nationality, it’s very disappointing. You shouldn’t judge people because of their religion or where they were born.”
“This Trump dude is starting to affect my sleep,” says Mahmood Mirzakhalili, only half-jokingly. “I had a nightmare about a war between our two countries. It’s really scary. The thing that’s bothering me so much is that these regulations are targeting open-minded, educated Iranians. I really wanted to apply for an internship in the States. I’m not going to do that anymore because I’m afraid of getting into the US.”
United We Stand
Though the travel ban has left many bewildered and angered, the academic community is experiencing one positive outcome from the uproar - many professors and students are rallying around their colleagues from the banned countries, offering support, comradery and even financial help.
Sameneh Abbasi is encouraged that the ban has had a uniting effect for many academics: “I appreciate the support from the scientific community and that they are trying to be helpful in this situation. They’ve signed petitions and have tried to support those of us affected by this. I’ve heard from my friends [in the US, ed.] that their supervisors have been very supportive.”
“Many of our graduate students and faculty were upset about the travel ban,” says Bart Knijnenburg, “I asked my department chair to organize a potluck to show our support for our own Iranian students and there were at least 30 people in that room. And I’m in a WhatsApp group with two students stuck in Iran. We’re setting up GoFundMe campaigns so we can try to help them.”
Update: Since these interviews were conducted, President Trump has said he won’t pursue reinstatement of his travel ban in the US Supreme Court. However, he told reporters that he’s considering alternative strategies, “including just filing a brand new order,” according to the Associated Press.