This weekend, Yale felt the repercussions of President Donald Trump’s executive action barring entry to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, though the University quickly rallied behind community members targeted by the ban.
Signed into action Friday, the order not only bans the entry of immigrants and refugees from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen but also U.S. permanent residents and green card holders who are citizens of these countries. The Office of International Students and Scholars issued a statement Saturday urging students from these countries not to travel home without consulting the OISS or an immigration attorney. In an email to Yale College the same day, University President Peter Salovey expressed his concern regarding the situation and said Yale joins in support of the thousands of affected faculty and students across American higher education.
While the University community expressed solidarity with all immigrants and refugees making their way to the U.S., there have been multiple reports of students, alumni and faculty at Yale who are directly affected by Trump’s executive order.
Arvin Kakekhani GRD ’16 — an Iranian post-doctoral candidate at Stanford University whose visa remains under Yale’s purview — expressed frustration and sadness in response to the order on the Facebook group Overheard at Yale on Saturday. He has been in contact with OISS, but said the language of the executive order is so vague that all the University has been able to tell him is that Yale’s lawyers are trying to contact people to interpret the statute. Kakekhani said that even before the executive order, there were many challenges for Iranians to get visas and move to the U.S., so continuing his studies in America was a personal sacrifice. He has not traveled home in more than six years, and he only saw his parents once during that period.
“I did all those things … to do something good for the world, to solve some of the problems in front of mankind,” Kakekhani told the News. “Now I can’t even continue doing that in this country because I am profiled by the place of my birth, on which I didn’t have any control.”
Mohammad Abdi GRD ’18, an Iranian graduate student at Yale who is currently outside of the U.S. for scientific research, tweeted on Friday night that Trump’s executive order may prevent his return to the Country.
Fellow anthropology student Dorsa Amir GRD ’19, an Iranian-American, shared Abdi’s story with the News.
“I am fortunate enough to have recently been granted citizenship, so the wording of this executive order doesn’t directly affect me, but I am worried about future action that might prey upon my dual citizenship to discriminate against me or limit my freedom,” she wrote in an email. “Most of my family either resides in Iran or outside of the United States and they will be affected by this ban. My grandmother, who has a green card, must now decide whether she wants to return to her home in Iran and face the possibility of not being able to return to the United States to see her children.”
Similarly, the wife and newborn daughter of Amin Karbasi, a resident fellow of Silliman College and assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, left the country a few weeks ago to visit family in Iran but now do not expect to be allowed to return, Karbasi said.
The Yale Chaplain’s Office, which estimated that between 300 and 400 Muslim undergraduate and graduate students currently attend Yale, met with Muslim student leaders Sunday to discuss the implications of the order for Yale’s Muslim community.
Omar Bajwa, director of Muslim student life, said that Yale’s Muslim community was “shocked and incredibly frustrated and disappointed” by Trump’s order and that they are trying to figure out ways to mobilize against this “unambiguously racial profiling and targeting of Muslims.”
However, Bajwa said he was encouraged by phone calls and messages he received from Yale faculty and students expressing solidarity with the Yale Muslim community. Bajwa and the Muslim Students Association will host a gathering today for Muslim students in order to discuss the executive order and express support for those directly affected. Following the gathering, there will be a meeting at Linsly-Chittenden Hall at 7 p.m. to discuss the implications of the order as well as provide resources and volunteer opportunities to get involved. Abrar Omeish ’18, president of the MSA, said that the group was also working on issuing an official statement as well as reaching out individually to students directly affected.
In light of the order, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler urged the Yale community to take care of its members throughout the coming months.
“I’m worried that people will isolate themselves out of fear … my hope is that the Muslim community continues to feel welcomed at Yale and also that they feel valued by the larger community,” Kugler said.
On Sunday, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway reached out to undergraduates by email, expressing his concern for all affected students. Several other faculty members also wrote to students with messages of support and solidarity, including Head of Pierson Stephen Davis and Dean of the Afro-American Cultural Center Risë Nelson Burrow.
“I do not pretend to have answers to the troubling systemic changes and challenges that we face in the present moment, but I do vow to stand with you and to do whatever I can to help seek out those answers,” Davis said.
Yasamin Sharifi ’19, who immigrated to the U.S. from Iran when she was a child and is a dual national of the U.S. and Iran, said she was not shocked by the executive order, viewing it as a culmination of other security and immigration policies the Department of Homeland Security has implemented since 9/11. However, what did surprise her was the response from across the country and at Yale. Sharifi said that she did not expect people to care, to come to events like the Sunday vigil or the protests at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City on Saturday.
Sharifi said that although she was angered and saddened on Saturday by the initial news, when she saw that people were reaching out and trying to organize events to show solidarity with the Muslim community, she felt much better.
“Today I felt a lot better because I saw that people were reaching out and people were gathering and trying to organize things,” Sharifi said. “It seemed a little more hopeful, that it wasn’t going to go ignored.”