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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Community members protest, provide resources after travel ban

Protests have erupted around the country as the White House’s executive order leads refugees to be detained at airports. | Jasmine Davis/ The Cougar

At least one student at the University of Houston has been prevented from entering the country due to a temporary travel ban announced by the White House on Friday.

UH is one of many universities whose students and faculty are being impacted by the travel restrictions. Around 280 UH students — graduate, undergraduate and exchange — hail from the seven Muslim-majority countries enumerated in the order, UH Media Relations said.

Nazir Pandor, a councilmember of the International Student Organization, said the Office of International Students and Scholar Services, or ISSS, is forming a team to provide optimal resources to students who might be affected by the ban.

“They are formulating a team that will tackle this issue,” Pandor said. “And, more importantly, provide information to the students that are affected here.”

Citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are barred from entering the United States for 90 days. In addition, all refugee resettlement programs are suspended for 120 days and refugees from Syria are banned indefinitely, according to the executive order signed by President Donald Trump.

The University of Michigan has said it will refuse to release the immigration status of its students, although it is unclear if UM or UH have been asked to do so.

Rice University President David Leebron made a statement similar to Michigan’s, and UH President Renu Khator released a statement Monday.

“(The order’s) immediate impact on the academic community is significant and is of great concern to the University of Houston,” Khator said in the email, which was sent to all students, faculty and staff. “We understand the anxiety of the members of our campus community who may be affected by this and offer support to them.”

The statement encouraged students affected by the ban to reach out to the Immigration Clinic at the UH Law Center or the ISSS.

Nearly 4,000 students from 128 countries report to ISSS. The office is responsible for procuring academic resources for non-immigrants who are enrolled as students at the University, said ISSS Director Anita Gaines.

“We’ve already been communicating with all of our students in this situation,” Gaines said. “For any student who might be hypothetically unable to come back, we are constantly in touch with information from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.”

As the primary point of contact for international students, Gaines said the office’s goal is to work with students to ensure they have continuously updated information.

“We have to remain flexible,” Gaines said. “Because the information can change. It’s not to our advantage to anticipate something that may or may not happen.”

NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, has been coordinating with both ISO and ISSS to provide a consolidated form of information that university organizations can then diffuse to students.

For now, Pandor said, the support is purely technical — legal advice and travel advisories. The emotional support will come later.

“We’re providing resources,” Pandor said. “We’re not providing them with a way to actually vent. For now, it’s very concentrated on what we can do for the students from these countries.”

ISO and ISSS hosted open information forums this week to facilitate the spread of resources disposable to students and are planning future emotional support forums.

Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the immigration clinic, was one of several attorneys associated with the University who offered their services at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sunday.

“We made it clear that we were not protesting,” Hoffmann said. “But that we were there in support of families who were trying to get their loved ones released from detention.”

Hoffmann said Customs and Border Protection is instructing people affected by the ban to apply for case-by-case waivers for people who are currently unable to enter the country.

In the time that the group of attorneys rallied at the airport, several detainees were released, including green-card holders after the provision that blocked their entry was added to the initial order.

Hoffman and the attorneys have partnered with the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, which will set lawyers in rotation at the airport or call them for legal advice, Hoffmann said.

“For now its a step by step process,” Pandor said. “We have this issue tight now. We’re going to tackle this issue right now with the right information. And then we’ll move on from there.”

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