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ISSO responds to new administration’s immigration policies

By Zach Cihlar

Section: Features, Top Stories

March 3, 2017

On Monday, Feb. 6, 10 days after President Trump signed an executive order barring travel from 7 largely Muslim countries into the U.S., Jodi Hanelt drove to Boston’s Logan airport to pick up a delayed international Brandeis scholar hailing from one of the seven affected countries. The scholar, originally scheduled to travel into the United States on Jan. 30, had a delayed entrance into the U.S. as a precaution in a result of the travel ban.

Hanelt, the director of the International Students and Scholars Office, is one of seven in an office that provides international students aid in working through the documentation involved with non-immigrant visas. The office also provides guidance to international students in academic, financial and personal matters. Hanelt and her team support about 1,400 students and 300 scholars, as well as sponsored academics pursuing research or teaching through the institution.

Throughout the scholar’s delay, Hanelt and the ISSO kept in contact with the scholar and sent word of developments in the status of the travel ban. The original date of their departure, Jan. 30, from the affected country passed, and Hanelt recalled that, over the few preceding days, she updated the scholar that travel into the country “looked a little bit murky” and that the scholar’s arrival might require delay.

“For a little while, we weren’t sure what would happen,” Hanelt said. Once the ban was stalled in the courts and travel looked safe, the ISSO notified the scholar, who was able to proceed with their entrance. Now resuming work on their post-doctoral assignment in chemistry, the scholar arrived at the airport to meet Hanelt in Boston. There were no complications during travel.

The scholar Hanelt picked up from the airport was just one of 22 students and scholars at Brandeis who come from one of the seven countries listed in the order. The science postdoctoral scholar from the affected country was, however, the only one to have travel affected by Trump’s immigration policies. The rest, 12 undergraduate students and nine other scholars, arrived safely prior to Trump’s signing of the order on Jan. 27.

Four students and scholars were able to secure Optional Practical Training (OPT) after OPT applications stalled due to the new administration’s immigration policies. OPT is a program that allows students whose F-1 visas expire within the year (meaning they graduate in May) to remain in the country for up to 12 months with work authorization.

“One actually received word that [her OPT card] had been approved an hour before the executive order had been approved,” Hanelt reported. Another student’s application, however, did stall due to the order. Presently, American immigration services has resumed reading the OPT applications, so those “hoping to do their practical training experiences shouldn’t face any barriers,” according to Hanelt.

The university provided the 22 students and scholars with specific protections, which were laid out in an email sent on Jan. 29 from the Office of the President. The email responded to the executive order, explaining the university’s reaction if a government official were to come to Brandeis for reasons regarding immigration information.

The email stated foremost that “Brandeis University will not permit immigration enforcement on our campus with respect to our students, faculty or staff without a warrant or a clear demonstration of exigent circumstances.”

Hanelt stressed that support within the student body is the most important. She reiterated a point made by Director of the Intercultural Center Madeleine Lopez during a Brandeis panel opposing the travel ban, where Lopez said, “Know that everyone here is available to you as a resource. Use this time to support each other—especially the most vulnerable.” The panel also included Hanelt, Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas and immigration attorney Madeline Cronin.

Alumni extended support to the international student community, many opening their homes for those whose travel may be limited by immigration policies going forward. “We’ll see and entertain those opportunities should people need that kind of support,” Hanelt said of the outpouring of support from alumni and the “parents program Facebook page” in the form of pro bono legal aid, housing options and general support.

Hanelt and the ISSO will also be attending Advocacy Day held by NAFSA: Association of International Educators this month in Washington, D.C. After a day-long training session, Hanelt and other international educators will speak to representatives on Capitol Hill to educate Congress on “why we need a more globally engaged and welcoming United States,” according to the NAFSA website.

Hanelt will use this time to connect with international educators at other schools from Massachusetts and throughout the nation to review “what space is left to support international students and scholars, what can be defended, what can be emphasized as important for universities to continue operating and creating an international community on our campuses.”

NAFSA’s website also issues press releases analyzing the executive order, its aftermath and the court cases that unfolded in response to Trump’s order. The first press release following the ban, headlined “Latest Executive Order Undermines America’s Safety and Values,” publicized the organization’s anger at the new administration.

On Feb. 10, NAFSA released a statement commending the court’s unanimous rejection of Trump’s appeal, which attempted to reinstate the travel ban from the seven countries. Though overturned by the federal courts, promise of an updated, restrictive immigration policy looms.

For many higher education institutions across the nation, predictions of a drop in international enrollment seem fairly prevalent, and the future of the accessibility of an American education to international students is uncertain.

For now, Hanelt advises students to make “sure that the international students we have on our campus feel welcomed, [and] feel connected to domestic students.” Resources offered through the ISSO concerning non-immigrant visas, travel information and other aspects of international student life can be found on the website of the International Students and Scholars Office.

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