The US Department of State has restored the validity of visas from individuals from seven countries whose nationals were barred from entering the United States under an executive order signed by Donald Trump.
The State Department's move follows a federal judge's decision to temporarily block the enforcement of that order nationwide.
The ruling by Judge James L. Robart, of the federal district court for the Western District of Washington, temporarily bars the government from enforcing the 90-day entry ban for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The temporary restraining order also enjoins the government from enforcing a 120-day ban on the entry of all refugees and an indefinite suspension of the admission of refugees from Syria.
The government immediately appealed the ruling. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled on 4 February to deny the government's request for an immediate stay of the restraining order pending full consideration of its emergency motion.
The battle in the courts over the legality of Trump's executive order is far from over. But in the meantime, the US Department of Homeland Security said it has “has suspended any and all actions” to implement the entry ban and would “resume inspection of travellers in accordance with standard policy and procedure.”
The State Department has also restored the validity of visas from the seven countries, which it had provisionally revoked in response to Trump’s executive order.
“We have reversed the provisional revocation of visas under Executive Order 13769,” a State Department official told Inside Higher Ed. “Those individuals with visas that were not physically canceled may now travel if the visa is otherwise valid.”
Some students who had been barred from re-entering the US have begun their travels back to their campuses. The Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York reported that one such student, Saira Rafiee, a doctoral student from Iran who a week earlier had been blocked from boarding a New York-bound plane, had landed in Boston and was en route back to CUNY.
Numerous students and scholars from the seven banned countries who were abroad at the time the order was signed had been unable to re-enter the U.S. Under the terms of Trump's order, those already in the US did not have to leave, but they would be unable to re-enter the country if they did - in effect preventing them from engaging in any personal or professional international travel.
Trump’s executive order has been widely condemned by civil rights groups as a pretext for banning the entry of Muslims, a step the president called for during his campaign. Education groups and university leaders have criticised the order for undermining key higher education values of inclusion and internationalism and for preventing travel by talented students and scholars to their campuses. One open letter, signed by 48 university presidents, including the leaders of all eight Ivy League institutions, condemned the entry ban as “dimming the lamp of liberty and staining the country’s reputation”.
In a statement, the White House described Robart's ruling as "outrageous" and defended the president's executive order as "lawful and appropriate." A subsequent statement from the White House deleted the word “outrageous”, but Trump did not hold back his outrage on Twitter, saying, “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Trump has justified the executive order as intended to keep terrorists out of the United States.
“The judge opens up our country to potential terrorists and others that do not have our best interests at heart,” Trump said in another tweet. “Bad people are very happy!”
Impact on Higher Education
Robart, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, ruled in response to a suit filed by the attorneys general of Washington and Minnesota. In issuing a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of the entry ban, Robart determined that “the states have met their burden of demonstrating that they face immediate and irreparable injury as a result of the signing and implementation of the executive order.”
The ruling includes explicit references to education and to the damage to public universities caused by the order. “The executive order adversely affects the states' residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel… In addition, the states themselves are harmed by virtue of the damage that implementation of the executive order has inflicted upon the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning, as well as injury to the states' operations, tax bases and public funds.”
Washington State University, the University of Washington and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges all filed supporting documents in the states' suit against Trump and the US government.
Asif Chaudhry, vice-president for international programmes at Washington State, said in two separate declarations that the university has about 136 undergraduate and graduate students and nine faculty members from the countries affected by the entry ban. He outlined several specific examples of ways in which the entry ban has negatively affected the lives of students and faculty from these countries by preventing them from travelling into and out of the US.
Among the examples cited in the declaration: “One graduate student, who holds a paid, grant-funded research assistantship with WSU, works on a team that conducts atmospheric research, which is dependent on field experiments and collaborations worldwide. She was scheduled to participate in experiments and equipment maintenance in Greenland, which is a standard expectation of research assistants in this laboratory, but is now unable to do so. This individual also was planning to attend a summer institute in Canada and now likely will be unable to do so.”
Chaudhry's declaration states that other research assistants have had to cancel job interviews in Canada or attendance at international conferences, and that two visiting scholars from the affected countries who had planned to come to Washington State are now unable to. One was turned away in transit, in Amsterdam.
“WSU has at least one faculty member who is currently unable to return to WSU,” Chaudhry's declaration states. "She is a research associate from an affected country who is paid from a National Science Foundation project. She traveled to Germany in January to defend her Ph.D. at another university and was scheduled to return to WSU on Feb. 11, 2017, to continue her scientific research and faculty position. The executive order will prevent her from being able to do so, and the research on this project has been put on hold until she can return."
Jeffrey Riedinger, the vice-provost for global affairs at the University of Washington, said in his declarations with the court that the university has about 96 students and 15 scholars, including postdoctoral researchers and adjunct faculty, from the seven countries affected by the travel ban. This is in addition to faculty members from the seven countries who are permanent residents in the US.
Riedinger expanded on the case of one such faculty member, a dual citizen of Iran and Sweden. “Although this faculty member is a lawful permanent resident, important members of her immediate family are not,” the declaration states. “Her immediate family members, including her mother, mother-in-law, children and grandchildren typically visit her in the United States two to three times each year. The executive order will prohibit such visits for the next 90 days. If the policy is extended for a longer period or indefinitely, I am concerned that the faculty member may find it necessary to consider leaving the university and the U.S. I believe that her departure would be a very significant loss to the university."
Nearly 600 college presidents wrote to Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly under the umbrella of the American Council on Education about the executive order on 3 February, hours before the ban was temporarily enjoined. The latest letter follows a letter of concern sent by ACE and 50 other higher education associations earlier in the week.
It states, "We take seriously the need to safeguard our nation and also the need for the United States to remain the destination of choice for the world’s best and brightest students, faculty, and scholars …. Our nation can only maintain its global scientific and economic leadership position if it encourages those talented people to come here to study and work. America is the greatest magnet for talented people from around the world, and it must remain so.
"We are confident that our nation can craft policies that secure us from those who wish to harm us, while welcoming those who seek to study, conduct research and scholarship, and contribute their knowledge and talents to our country," the letter states.