How Trump’s immigration ban may lead to uniting America and the world

“The United States’ image was compromised by the executive order, but there’s another side to this story: fortunately, the public outcry was immediate and widespread”

Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration was damaging and divisive. But the US is refusing to be divided, argues Jill Welch, deputy executive director, public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

When President Donald Trump signed his executive order on immigration in his first week of office, US and international citizens alike were alarmed to see a country that has prided itself on being a nation of immigrants, suddenly turn its back on those fleeing violence and shut its doors on those seeking opportunity with the mere stroke of a pen. This does not represent the America that we aspire to be.

This executive action, which came on the heels of earlier US immigration enforcement actions, caused significant collateral damage and took the country away from policies which have made the United States strong and safe. It caught even those implementing it by surprise, and failed to account for the careful and thorough vetting procedures that have been established to welcome those who intend us no harm.

The United States’ image around the world and within our borders was compromised by the executive order, but there’s another side to this story: fortunately, the public outcry was immediate and widespread. When thoroughly vetted students, scholars, refugees, children, and others were barred from entry and often stranded outside the United States, people united to stand for common values, as attorneys, public officials, and university personnel rushed into action to defend these individuals. Citizens stood together in protest, shouting “No hate, no fear. Everyone is welcome here” and carried signs that read “We the People, greater than fear;” “Love thy neighbor, Matthew 22:39, regardless of race, religion, country of origin or sexual identity. This includes refugees and undocumented migrants;” and “America Welcomes Refugees and Immigrants.” Senators, congressional representatives, governors, and other leaders went to their local airports to fight for the people who were denied lawful entry.

Finally, after more than a week of chaos and protest, other individuals are beginning to be reunited with their communities in the United States. Perhaps even more importantly, citizens are preparing for the long fight ahead to defend immigrants’ rights and protect the values of America as a nation that welcomes immigrants.

At NAFSA, we have long understood that our immigration system is an important part of the face that the United States presents to the world. In an era of global mobility, how can America attract the best international students and scholars if our immigration laws are pre-global age and our immigration debate screams anti-foreign sentiment? Today the association’s commitment to comprehensive immigration reform—as an expression of our most fundamental values—has grown more profound.

“We have long understood that our immigration system is an important part of the face that the United States presents to the world”

The immediate, short and long-term impact of Trump’s words and actions will likely unfold for some time to come. But we know three things to be true:

First, international education work is critical to the nation Americans want to be.

Second, NAFSA plays an important role in advocating for policies that create common ground among diverse opinions. Our society and our world desperately need people who can bridge divides. It is crucial that we stay actively engaged with and continue to learn from people of other countries and cultures.

And third, I am confident that the United States will continue to be welcoming and globally engaged and that a diverse and inclusive coalition is forming to force Congress and the courts to exercise strong and careful oversight over executive actions like these. We are already seeing evidence of this:

  • Congress is taking note. With one party controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, it’s important to support those who take action against unconstitutional, ill-advised, or unmerited actions. To date, 30 Republican House members and 19 Republican Senators have criticized the ban, including 18 Representatives and 13 Senators who outright oppose the ban as it currently stands. Now we need them to take action.
  • Higher education is speaking out. 373 colleges and universities have released statements speaking out against the executive order.
  • 48 college and university presidents have signed on to a letter to President Trump encouraging him to rectify or rescind the executive order.
  • 601 colleges and universities signed a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security expressing concerns about the executive order for its negative impact on international education.
  • 20 universities outside of the United States have also spoken out against the executive order.
  • At least 28 schools that have adopted the label “Sanctuary Campus” – and there have been student-led petitions and demonstrations at over 100 campuses calling on university administrations to adopt the label.
  • And the international community reminded us of our responsibilities to the global community. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Organization for Migration released a joint statement reminding the US of the importance of its refugee program.

Moving forward into the next administration and congress, NAFSA will continue our role in advocating for the ideals that have always made us strong. We will continue to advocate for policies that advance diversity in our communities and on our campuses; make us a more welcoming and inclusive United States; ensure every US college student benefits from global learning; and create a participatory democracy for all Americans.

“There is no evidence that any of these recent executive actions will make America safer. In fact, they will actually undermine our future foreign relations”

We continue to work with our member advocates and urge Congress to pass the BRIDGE Act, which would protect young people brought to the United States as children without documentation, and the Feinstein Bill, which would overturn and defund the immigration ban.

We firmly believe that isolation and division diminishes us, and we believe that nations are more secure when we find common ground with others. There is no evidence that any of these recent executive actions will make America safer. In fact, they will actually undermine our future foreign relations. Perceived around the world as a thinly veiled attempt to target Muslim-majority countries, these new measures risk alienating friends and allies, particularly in this region where relationships are so vital.

To the students, scholars, doctors, refugees, family members and others who wonder if the United States has lost its commitment to its core values as a nation of freedom, opportunity and welcome, nothing can be further from the truth. As witnessed across the country, American citizens will not tolerate policies that undermine our values and make us less safe. We understand that America is part of the global community, and we will raise our voices with Congress, with the White House, with the media and in our communities to continue to adhere to the principles that have always made us strongest.

Jill Welch is NAFSA’s deputy executive director for public policy. She has been engaged in working with Congress and the Executive Branch on international education issues for more than a decade, and she leads a team of talented staff in promoting international education as central to constructive US global engagement and to peace, security, and well-being in the United States and the world.