Travel Ban and Higher Ed

Protest at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Terminal 4, against Donald Trump's executive order banning citizens of seven countries from traveling to the United States. (Rhododendrites)

Protest at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Terminal 4, against Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven countries from traveling to the United States. (Rhododendrites)

By Jasmine Medina

CUNY Graduate School student Saira Rafiee was about to check in at the Abu Dhabi airport when President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning the travel of citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. Raifee had been on a vacation in her native Iran and she was on her way to JFK via Abu Dhabi, according to her public statement. “I got on the flight to Abu Dhabi, but there at the airport was told that I would not be able to enter the US. I had to stay there for nearly 18 hours, along with 11 other Iranians, before getting on the flight back to Tehran.”

Although Trump signed a revised executive order March 6 that allows travel for legal permanent residents of the U.S., the ban still has had a large impact on colleges. With approximately 23,000 international students from the list of countries listed on the travel ban studying in the U.S., Raifee is not alone. Over the past five years, the number of students from the seven countries increased about 15 percent. Data from 2105 showed the majority of these students come from Iran.


According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, international students often pay full tuition prices at the colleges in which they are enrolled. It is estimated that the economic benefit of having those students in the U.S. could be over as $700 million for all students. Data also show that California, Massachusetts, Texas, and New York are among the top four states to see the most financial benefits from international students from the seven banned countries.

Negative attitudes towards refugees are nothing new. U.S. public opinion polls from previous decades show that Americans have largely opposed allowing in large numbers of refugees into the country. The number of Muslim refugees allowed in the U.S. reached a record high in 2016 despite the fact that a Pew Research poll from January 2017 shows that about 46 percent of Americans view Middle Easterners as a threat. Young people were much less likely than adults to view refugees as threatening.

For Sana Batool, the negative attitudes towards refugees serve as a reminder of the discrimination she faced back home. The 20-year-old Lehman College biochemistry major grew up in Quetta, Pakistan, as a member of the Hazara community. “The Hazaras are a minority community in Pakistan,” Batool said. “They often face discrimination because of their East Asian facial features. Even though I was born and raised in Pakistan, I never felt like I was accepted over there because of my facial features.”


Sana Batool

In 2001, the persecution of Hazaras became more dangerous because of religious extremist groups. According to reports from the Human Rights Watch, 1300 Hazaras lost their lives from deliberate killings in the past decade. Batool experienced this violence first hand when a suicide bomber attacked the neighborhood she lived in. The sounds of sirens and screams woke her up that day. “I remember walking outside to see if anyone needed help and what I saw left me paralyzed with fear,” she said. “I saw detached pieces of hands, legs, and heads lying on the ground and the whole street was covered in blood. That moment was the first time I actually felt fear in my heart because I couldn’t comprehend the rationale behind the attacks.”

Although Batool and her family tried to stay in Quetta, the genocide of the Hazaras made it unsafe for them to go anywhere in their hometown, including school and work. The family was able to move to New York in 2012 after Batool’s father got a position at the United Nations. Although it took time to adapt to American culture, Batool feels that moving to New York helped her with accepting her culture. “When I lived in Quetta, I didn’t embrace being a Hazara because I wanted to fit in with everyone else,” she said. “Once I came to New York, I saw people from all over the world living together. Seeing other people embrace their cultures made me feel more comfortable with my own ethnicity.”

However, the controversy over the travel ban is still unsettling for Batool.

“Making the decision to come to New York was very hard to make. All refugees come to this country just so that they can escape the injustices that they faced at home,” she said. “Even though terrorism is a very real threat for the world, it is important for people to remember that refugees are just looking for a better quality of life.”

For Raifee, the ban is not about stopping terrorism. “It is time to call things by their true names. This is Islamaphobia, racism, and fascism,” she said. “We, the 99 percent of the world, need to stand united in resisting the authoritarian forces all over the world.”

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