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Executive Order Could Affect BC Students, Faculty Traveling to Middle East

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Friday barring entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely and all refugees for 120 days, as well as barring entry for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries. The order initially banned green card holders from those countries from reentering the United States, though White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared to back away from that policy on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Layla Aboukhater, MCAS ’18, started at Boston College last year after she and her father escaped escalating violence in Syria in November 2014. She said on Sunday that, while she has an American passport and therefore might not be directly impacted by the policy, her parents, who are green card holders, have decided to stay in the United States for the time being.

“I was talking to my dad earlier today, and he was like, ‘I don’t need to leave the States, but if I had to for work, I would be screwed,’” Aboukhater said.

The New York Times reported last week that 12,587 Syrian refugees entered the United States in 2016. Aboukhater pointed out that Lebanon has taken in over one million refugees from Syria, while Massachusetts, which is over twice the size of Lebanon, has accepted just a couple hundred. After terrorist attacks killed over 100 people in Paris in November 2015, Governor Charlie Baker said he was not interested in accepting Syrians refugees into Massachusetts.

On Saturday night, several federal judges granted stays barring the removal of people who were currently in transit to the United States from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. In Boston, Judge Allison D. Burroughs granted a one-week stay that bars detention of those in transit in addition to removal, ruling that petitioners in the suit met the standard of showing it was likely that detention and/or removal would violate their rights to due process and equal protection, and are likely to suffer irreparable harm.

Although she said she is not happy about the order at all, Aboukhater said that in terms of numbers of Syrian refugees and the challenges they face, the order is not a very significant change. Two years ago, Aboukhater’s mother, traveling as the spouse of an H-1B work visa holder, was detained at the airport for hours of questioning. That episode wasn’t shocking to anyone, she said, because it was already a norm.

“As bad as this order is, people’s reactions to it make me think that maybe people just didn’t realize that it was that bad from the beginning,” she said. “As Syrian people and as Arabs we’re just used to it—it doesn’t come as as much of a shock to me as it came to people in the States, I think.”

Aboukhater’s best friend, who immigrated to Oman, had applied and received a tourist visa that would allow her multiple visits to the U.S., though they have had to postpone those plans indefinitely. Another friend is here on a student visa and was planning to return home for the summer, but those plans have also been cancelled.

Aboukhater was most critical of the countries that were chosen, saying that Saudi Arabia is more dangerous than any of them and as of yet has no travel restrictions. Priebus said on Meet the Press that the countries were chosen based on prior statements from the Obama administration and actions of Congress.

Kathleen Bailey, a political science professor who travels frequently to the Middle East but not to any of the seven countries affected by the executive action, said in an email that the order would not alter her plans to go to Kuwait in March, Saudi Arabia in April, or Jordan in May.

Bailey added, however, that she fears scholars invited to speak or do research at BC will decline in order to avoid the “extreme vetting” proposed by the Trump administration. She also worries that current BC students from those countries may be afraid to travel home because of uncertainty over whether they will be allowed back into the U.S.

“And I am concerned that BC students will be worried about conducting research in the Middle East, even though this research is essential to language immersions and academic investigation,” she said.

Bailey added that not only is the executive order malicious, its execution is “incredibly incompetent,” because of reports that the Justice Department, White House legal counsel, and the Department of Homeland Security were not informed of the order’s exact contents until it was signed and, because of its immediate implication, did not have time to prepare.

“Too bad the ‘extreme vetting’ process that will be done to refugees and immigrants wasn’t done within the government,” Bailey said.

Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know has been affected by the executive order regulating travel and immigration, The Heights wants to hear from you. Email [email protected] with any information.

Featured Image Courtesy of Associated Press

January 30, 2017