Admin, Students and Faculty Organize Against Executive Order
Issue   |   Wed, 02/08/2017 - 00:03
Photo courtesy of Alura Chung-Mehdi '18
Following the release of President Donald Trump’s executive order on Friday, Jan. 27, students participated in a campus walkout on Wednesday, Feb. 1 to protest the order and also staged a sit-in in President Biddy Martin’s office.

The Amherst College community has responded to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive in various ways over the past week, with students leading protests and organizing a phone bank and the college offering legal consultation resources.

The order halts the entry of nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen into the United States for 90 days, stops the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and bans Syrian refugees from resettling in the U.S. indefinitely. In addition, it gives the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security the ability to add more countries to the original list. On Friday, Feb. 3, a temporary nationwide restraining order on the ban was issued by Seattle federal judge James Robart, in response to a lawsuit from Washington and Minnesota states.

The order also states that once the refugee program resumes, priority will be given to refugees fleeing religious persecution if “the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” The restricted countries are all predominantly Muslim countries, excluding Muslim refugees from this special class.

Several hundred students, faculty and community members marched from Valentine Hall to the steps of Converse Hall on Feb. 1 to protest the executive order and criticize a perceived lack of meaningful support from President Biddy Martin and the college administration.

The protesters presented a list of demands to President Martin, as well as two letters of solidarity from alumni and faculty members. Several students delivered speeches, providing personal accounts of the effect that the Trump administration’s order would have on their lives and families.

Student protesters also held a sit-in in Martin’s office during the Feb. 1 protest, with organizers stating they would continue until Martin conceded to their demands. Martin eventually left her office to address the protesters, calling for unified action against the president’s executive order.

According to protest organizer Aubrey Grube ’18E, a group of students “frustrated by the news and by the college’s response” met soon after Martin’s initial email to the community. The group discussed the logistics of the protest as well as the unmet needs of affected students.

“I find the executive order to be cruel, baseless and unconstitutional,” Grube wrote in an email interview. “As far as the administration’s response, I think there was an attempt to delegitimize the concerns of the demonstration, but I am very happy that concrete steps are being taken to support the financial and legal needs of those affected in our community.”

The sit-in continued after the initial protest until Martin’s second statement, which demonstrated “clear commitments that align with the demands presented by organizers,” Grube said.

Harith Khawaja ’19, an international student from Pakistan who spoke about his father’s dreams for his children at the protest, said that “it was just shocking that something like [the order] could come into existence at this point in the world.”

“For me, the U.S. had always epitomized the perfect values, and it always seemed to be that one place that granted equality to everyone,” he said. “Across the world, there’s this crazy illusion of perfection that encapsulates the identity of the U.S. For me … on the eighth of November, when Trump was elected … the facade first began to shatter.”

Though not directly affected, Khawaja said the order does stand as a warning to anyone from a Muslim-majority country.

“Immigration attorneys, for the moment, are recommending for us not to travel internationally anywhere, just because it’s a risk that the order poses to other Muslim-majority countries as well,” he said. “So, even though the effect is indirect, it’s a very emotional and visceral one because it sets the tone for the Trump administration in regards to his dealings with even innocent people from this country. This is going to be the norm for us in the next four years.”

Khawaja believes the college and community can still take greater steps to provide resources for students who are directly and indirectly affected. He said the International Students Office needs to work on facilitating better relations with students and called on the college to commit itself to improvement.

On Monday, Feb. 6, a phone bank event co-hosted by the Amherst College Democrats, the Amherst Political Union and the Association of Amherst Students took place in Converse Hall and the Alumni House. Students used a script, calling on congressmen and representatives to speak out against the order. The college supported their efforts by providing phones for the event.

Alexander Deatrick ’20, president of the Amherst College Democrats, worked alongside AAS President Karen Blake ’17 and Vice President Chico Kosber ’17 to organize the event.

“As long as Trump’s in office, this is going to be an issue,” said Deatrick. “So we feel it’s more important than ever that ordinary students, millennials and people all around the country are getting in touch with their representatives and letting them know how they feel about discriminating against people just based off where they were born.”

“The College Democrats are absolutely going to work to continue reaching out to our representatives, and make sure they hear that students support progressive ideas and a better future for our country,” said Deatrick.

The college brought in immigration attorney Dan Berger on Friday, Feb. 3 to discuss the specifics of the order, answer questions and meet with affected students on an individual basis. Berger was previously invited to meet with students regarding undocumented immigration and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in November.

According to Berger, the language of the ban has led to confusion regarding visa status, dual nationalities and green cards.

“There’s a lot of stuff in these executive orders that is just very vague,” Berger said. “The executive orders were just very badly written. They say anybody who is ‘from’ one of these countries can’t enter. Any lawyer knows that every word matters. So does from mean that you’re born in Iran? Does it mean that you are a dual citizen of Iran and the Netherlands? Does from mean that your parents are from Iran? What does it mean? We’re still in the middle of confusion.”

As of now, Berger recommends that people from one of the seven specified countries do not leave the country unless necessary, but can travel domestically within the continental United States. He emphasized that the fluidity of the ban and its changing nature leads to an unpredictable future for those affected.

Martin published a letter on Feb. 3 addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, urging him to rescind the executive order. In it, she called the order an “overreaction” that “undermines America’s ability to attract exceptionally ambitious students, scientists, engineers and others.”

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Katie Fretwell ’81 said that the Office of Admission does expect a decrease in the number of students from specified countries that will be able to enroll in Amherst and other American universities in the fall of 2017.

“Current applicants to Amherst impacted by the ban submitted their applications before the executive order was signed,” Fretwell said. “It’s uncertain if any who may be offered admission will have the ability to remain in or enter the country by the fall.”

According to Fretwell, Amherst would support the indefinite deferment of enrollment by affected students. She also said the number of applications from international students unexpectedly increased this year.

“Frankly, I was surprised to see increases in both our early decision and regular decision pools of non-U.S. citizens following the presidential election,” Fretwell said. “While an American higher education remains in demand for students around the world, I might have anticipated that Trump’s election would deter some students from seeking admission at U.S. institutions.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones sent a community-wide email providing “a clear, simple summary of our key initiatives and resources.” The email specified emergency resources such as 24/7 phone lines to counselors and on-call administrators and legal assistance for affected students for which the college would pay. In addition, it pledged the reorganization of the International Students Office, the appointment of a new director of international student services and the creation of a dedicated confidential space in Keefe Campus Center for international students.

“Amherst is committed to providing any resource or service we legally can to protect the well-being of students who are affected or may be affected by the government’s immigration actions,” wrote Jones. “We are always open to suggestions and comments about what we are providing and what more could be done.”

Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey said that her office and the college as a whole are committed to helping affected students in the short and long term. “We will continue to support those students who are most directly affected by immigration orders, but also those who want to come in and talk and think about what’s happening with their families [and] what’s happening around the world,” said Coffey.

The college, she added, would provide affected students with internships and summer housing if necessary.

When considering the possibility of future obstacles from the Trump administration, she said that she could “imagine threats that go beyond immigration.”

“Whatever the landscape is, we have got to be able to say we are bringing the best and brightest students to this institution, and we will support them thoroughly,” Coffey said. “That’s the basis on which democracy continues to thrive. It’s these colleges and universities that have got to stand up in this time and make it possible for scholars to continue to do their work.”

Shawna Chen ’20 contributed reporting for this article.