Standing in front of a crowd of 200, Zahiah Hammad introduced the ways President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration impacts her life, her family and her friends.
Hammad, a University of Wisconsin freshman studying political science and journalism, is the daughter of two Palestinian immigrants, both of whom moved to the U.S. to create a better life. She said she speaks for undocumented immigrants and her friends who are unable to visit their home countries in fear they might never be able to come back.
“The America we live in today has been overpowered by a man who doesn’t believe in my rights as a citizen because of the scarf I choose to wear, the beliefs I choose to follow and the life I choose to live,” Hammad said.
When Trump issued his executive order on immigration almost two weeks ago, people throughout the U.S. spoke out, both praising and condemning the decision. The executive order, which primarily focuses on seven Muslim-majority countries, suspends entry of all refugees for 120 days and blocks entry completely for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.
Across Wisconsin and the country, legislators, students and community members have diligently voiced their concern or support for the order. As of Feb. 2, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has recommended 1,222 people be denied from boarding.
The university takes a stance
At UW, officials reported the order directly affected 115 students, faculty and staff.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement the university adds its voice to the Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land Grant Universities and other peer institutions asking for Trump to reconsider the executive order.
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Blank said the executive order impacts real people on campus who have an integral role in providing a world-class education.
“We understand and share the commitment to protect our country and keep Americans safe,” Blank said. “At the same time, the [UW] administration must ensure its policy does not keep out those who have good reasons to travel.”
“The America we live in today has been overpowered by a man who doesn’t believe in my rights as a citizen because of the scarf I choose to wear, the beliefs I choose to follow and the life I choose to live.”Zahiah HammadAccording to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, college students holding F1, J1 or M1 visas currently have their visas provisionally revoked as part of the executive order. Those who are in the U.S. already are not impacted by the order, but individuals out of the country will not be allowed back because of a lack of travel documents.
UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone said the university is not aware of any UW students, faculty or staff who have been barred from returning to the country.
After the news of the executive order, Joshua Moon Johnson, UW assistant dean of students, sent an email to members of the UW community who could be impacted. His recommendation was to not travel outside of the U.S.
“I recognize that this might be a challenging and confusing time … you are an important part of our community, and we want to make sure you feel welcomed during this uncertain moment,” Johnson said.
McGlone said International Students Services is currently available to help students with questions and International Faculty and Staff Services can assist faculty and staff. Both offices are sharing information, answering questions, providing guidance and referring people to other helpful resources.
Students, researchers worry about future in U.S.
Shabnam Lotfi, a local immigration lawyer, said the ban has caused turmoil among travelling scholars, UW researchers and students across the country.
Lotfi, a daughter of Iranian immigrants, said by witnessing her parents’ experiences, she learned what it meant to leave a home country and start a new life somewhere else. She saw the impact bad government and bad politics could have on people’s lives, which inspired her to go to law school.
Before the ban, Lotfi said she primarily focused on helping people get green cards, but now she has started working as an advocate.
“I’ve had people call me that are British green card holders that have lived here for five, 10 years.” Shabnam LotfiLotfi helped organize the group Advocates United, which connects people impacted by the executive order. Five thousand people joined in the two days after the group’s start — a week later, the number doubled. Lotfi said she has been getting calls almost nonstop since Trump signed the executive order.
“[The ban] was not implemented effectively in any shape or form, and I don’t believe it had anything to do with national security,” Lotfi said.
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After Trump signed the executive order, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said in a statement Trump was right to make sure the government was doing everything possible to know who is entering the country.
“We are a compassionate nation, and I support the refugee resettlement program, but it’s time to re-evaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process,” Ryan said.
Ryan said the number one responsibility of the government is to protect the U.S.
Prior to Trump’s action, a female research scholar at UW visited Lotfi to discuss her husband’s visa. After two and half years of his visa being denied and not seeing one another, they had an interview scheduled. The night the executive order came out, all visa orders were cancelled, including the UW researcher’s husband.
Lotfi also said a UW professor was scheduled to go to a conference in Switzerland, but after the executive order, he had to cancel his airline ticket. She said cancelling conference appearances can greatly impact not only UW but universities worldwide.
Over the past couple of weeks, Lotfi has even had those who hold green cards and been in the country for multiple years come to question their status.
“It’s shocking,” Lotfi said. “I’ve had people call me that are British green card holders that have lived here for five, 10 years.”
Students speak out
On Feb. 3, a group of more than 200 students of various religious backgrounds gathered with brightly colored signs to “stand with refugees” at the top of Bascom Hill.
Along with Dan Schneider, a third-year law student, other law students and the UW Jewish community joined to host the protest. Schneider said many people he talked to were really pleased by Blank’s statement. He said he appreciated that the university was looking out for students, but he wanted something similar from the Board of Regents.
“We’re pleased at the direction the [UW] administration has signaled they are moving in,” Schneider said.
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Schneider said they wanted to show on campus that as law students and members of the campus, they support Muslim and immigrant students.
Zach Urisman, a UW junior, said it’s up to the people to keep the U.S. a space for immigrants. Over the next four years, Urisman said it’s important to push elected officials.
“They will not see the light unless they feel the heat,” Urisman said.
For Urisman, the U.S. is a nation of not only immigrants but people who have the courage to leave everything behind as a way to create a better life for themselves.
“The constitution does not begin with ‘I the President’ but ‘We the People’.” Zahiah HammadDays after the announcement of the executive order, Schneider said law students were buzzing with nervous and angry energy. Though he is not a licensed lawyer, Schneider pointed out the illegality of the executive order, stating it goes against the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which prevents restricting individuals to immigrate based on nationality or country of origin.
“It can inflame terrorism … [and is] almost certain to give our enemies a good reason to point to the U.S. and [say], ‘See, they actually do hate us, they do hate our beliefs, they do hate our lifestyle, they’re opposed to our interests fundamentally,’” Schneider said. “Honestly, this travel ban is probably the best ad for ISIS that they could’ve ever hope for.”
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Emilia Rohl, spokesperson for UW College Republicans, said the organization stands by and supports Trump’s effort to increase and improve national security.
“If the Supreme Court says that they need more time to decide the constitutionality of the decision and it doesn’t jeopardize the national security, then we believe the Supreme Court has the right to continue to review it,” Rohl said.
Eliana Locke, spokesperson for UW College Democrats, said the ban is completely Islamophobic and is tapping into false fears.
At the moment, Locke said as students, there is not a lot they can do policy-wise. But she said they can support the students impacted on campus and continue making calls to representatives to oppose the laws.
For Hammad, the executive order goes against the First Amendment and diminishes some of the things that makes the country inclusive.
“The constitution does not begin with ‘I the President’ but ‘We the People,’” Hammad said. “I encourage you all to keep fighting and resisting for the roots that made this country once beautiful.”
Teymour Tomsyck contributed to reporting this feature.