Government

Universities Spoke Up in Case That Led to Ruling Halting Trump’s Travel Ban

February 05, 2017

The federal court ruling that put a temporary nationwide halt to the Trump administration’s executive order restricting travel into the United States resulted in part from declarations provided by the University of Washington, Washington State University, and the state’s two-year college system.

The colleges’ statements to the court described how hundreds of their students, researchers, and faculty members were being harmed by the travel ban, which closed the borders to all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries and to virtually all refugees worldwide.

International researchers and students are 'an indispensable part of who we are.'
Officials from the universities and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges said they provided the declarations to demonstrate the direct impact of the ban and to send a public message that their institutions remain welcoming to students and scholars from overseas.

International researchers and students are “an indispensable part of who we are,” Jeffrey Riedinger, vice provost for global affairs at the University of Washington, said in an interview on Saturday night. He added that it was “an important signal” that both of the state’s public research universities had submitted declarations.

The ban was halted by a federal judge on Friday night in response to a lawsuit filed last week by the attorney general of Washington State, which the attorney general of Minnesota later joined.

In his ruling, Judge James L. Robart of the U.S. District Court in Seattle cited the damage the executive order was causing to people’s businesses, family relations, freedom to travel, and education. Judge Robart also specifically noted the travel ban’s harm to states’ economies and “the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher education.”

Late Saturday, the Trump administration filed an appeal seeking to allow the ban to resume. Early Sunday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied an “administrative stay” of Judge Robart’s ruling, which would have let the ban resume immediately. Instead, the court set deadlines on Monday for parties on each side of issue to file written arguments.

Judge Robart’s ruling on Friday was “a welcome relief,” said Asif Chaudhry, vice president for international programs at Washington State. But he also noted that with the ruling still facing an appeal, the affected students and researchers could suddenly find themselves subject to the ban again.

In Washington State’s two declarations, Mr. Chaudhry said the university had at least 136 matriculated undergraduate and graduate students with valid student visas and at least nine faculty members from the seven countries covered by the ban — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Among the people affected, he said, were a graduate student who had had to abruptly cancel plans to travel to Greenland to conduct atmospheric research, out of fear she would not be able to re-enter the country, and another who was stopped in Europe while trying to return to the university.

President Trump’s executive order will also affect students and scholars considering study in the United States but who have not yet come, Mr. Chaudhry said in an interview Saturday. “They will look for alternatives” for their academic destinations, he said, as he would too “if I were in their shoes.”

The Wrong Message

Mr. Chaudhry, who joined Washington State following a career in the U.S. State Department as a diplomat and an ambassador, said the presidential order sends the wrong message. “It is not consistent with American values. It is not consistent with the message we try to give as diplomats.”

In the University of Washington’s two declarations, Mr. Riedinger said the institution had approximately 96 matriculated undergraduate and graduate students from the seven affected countries, as well as several faculty members and a dean. The dean had fled the Iranian revolution as a child, and she now holds dual citizenship from Iran and Sweden. Mr. Riedinger said he feared that the travel ban could prompt her to consider leaving the university because the ban could make it hard for her to see family members overseas in the future.

One of the declarations also notes that the travel ban could impair the ability of American scholars to conduct research in some or all of the seven affected countries in the event, which Mr. Riedinger considers likely, that those countries respond with travel bans of their own against Americans.

The universities and the technical-college system, along with several major businesses based in Washington State, were invited to submit their statements by the state attorney general, Bob Ferguson, in support of the lawsuit he filed. His lawsuit takes the most expansive tack in challenging the ban of the several that have been filed around the country.

The colleges and universities that responded did so knowing that that there could be some risks, for the affected individuals and perhaps politically for the institutions themselves, considering that President Trump this week took to Twitter to attack the University of California at Berkeley with a message that falsely suggested the university “practices violence on innocent people.” In a tweet over the weekend. Mr. Trump also attacked Judge Robart, calling him a “so-called judge” in tweet.

John Boesenberg, deputy executive director for business operations at the community- and technical-college board, said in an interview Sunday that his agency had provided its declaration within 12 hours of receiving the request, even though “we understood there might be consequences.” He declined to speculate on what those could be, saying only, “We wanted to do what was right for our students, our system and our community.”

The colleges, which enroll about 380,000 students, have at least 188 students from the seven affected countries, and some 10,000 international students over all, he said, and system leaders fear the ban will have a chilling effect on enrollments from overseas.

Mr. Riedinger said the University of Washington weighed carefully what it put into its  declarations, “making sure that people were comfortable about what identifying information we provided,” out of concern for how that information could affect those affiliated with the university or their family members.

The university has already found itself in the national spotlight following a shooting on its campus last month during protests against a provocative conservative speaker. Participating in the attorney general’s lawsuit, said Mr. Riedinger, contributes to “a climate on campus that is already challenging.”

Goldie Blumenstyk writes about the intersection of business and higher education. Check out www.goldieblumenstyk.com for information on her new book about the higher-education crisis; follow her on Twitter @GoldieStandard; or email her at goldie@chronicle.com.