Now that they’ve had a chance to review the details, Louisiana’s public college officials are telling the 178 students from countries caught up in the president’s renewed travel ban to stay calm but mind the details.
When the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 resurrected President Donald J. Trump’s travel ban, suspended in March, they included some exemptions. Already enrolled students from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, should be able to return unhindered. And students from the six targeted Muslim-majority nations should be able to enter country with an acceptance letter, called a Form I20, from an American university.
“Many of our students have been and are still worried since the travel ban,” said Josephine Okoronkwo, director of the Student Development Center at Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO). “We encourage our students not to travel outside the country; but, if they have to travel, we encourage them to ensure that they have all their immigration documentation in order and in their possession at all times.”
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The U.S. Supreme Court said people from the six targeted nations could enter the country if they had a “bona fide” connection, meaning a close familial relationship. "As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course,” the Court said.
University officials interpret that ambiguous wording to mean that students who are enrolled and have an F1 visa (F2 if they are a spouse or child of the student) should have no problems from border authorities.
That’s all well and good in the abstract, but standing in front of an immigration official shaking his head "no" at the airport is a different story, said Ali Reza Payandah, an Iranian in the third of his five years of study as doctoral student in oceanography at LSU. Iranians make up 83 percent of the students in Louisiana affected by the travel ban.
Because the U.S. has no consulates in Iran, Iranian students must travel to another country, such as Turkey, for an interview with American officials in order to gain entry. Securing an appointment can take weeks and then months more can pass before a visa is granted.
Any bureaucratic blip could delay Payandah from returning to LSU for months, possibly years.
Payandah and his wife opted to stay in Baton Rouge over the summer.
“I don’t want to lose the three years I have already invested here,” Payandah said in an interview. “So, I’m not going to tempt fate.”
There are consequences for that decision.
His wife is having dental troubles. Last year she would have returned to Iran on summer vacation and had her teeth looked after in Tehran. That was fairly standard practice for Iranian students.
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They decided, because of the travel ban, to forego the trip home and she’s putting up with the pain until they can save enough money to pay for a visit to the dentist, Payandah said.
“The Trump administration’s ban does not change most of these already onerous conditions. But it does add a new layer of uncertainty, and students fear further erosions to their ability to travel in and out of the U.S.,” Brendan Karch wrote in an email. The LSU assistant professor of history has been helping international students thread their way through the process.
“I have spoken with several university administrators, and they are all committed to supporting international students from these Muslim-majority countries,” Karch added.
Jason Droddy, LSU vice president for external affairs, said the university studied Trump’s order and determined that previously admitted students should be able to enter the U.S. Almost two-thirds of the students in Louisiana from the targeted countries are registered at LSU’s flagship campus in Baton Rouge, all but four of the 114 affected students are doing graduate level studies, according to the Board of Regents.
The university is referring all international students to a memo that lays out the details of the travel order, Droddy said. The memo is available at http://www.lsu.edu/intlpro/executive_order_update.php
LSU has 1,741 foreign nationals studying on the Baton Rouge campus, which accounts for about 27 percent of all international students in Louisiana.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has sent the most students to study at colleges and universities in Louisiana, followed by the People’s Republic of China, then the Republic of India.
Critics say Trump’s travel order discriminates against Muslims and fuels Islamophobia. The president insists that the ban is only against states that U.S. officials suspect sponsor terrorism or has been “significantly compromised” by terrorist organizations.
His original order in February kept out travelers from the six countries plus Iraq from entering the country for 90 days. It also halted refugee resettlement for 120 days and banned Syrian refugees indefinitely. A revised order in March was a little more focused.
Both orders have been challenged successfully in federal courts around the nation. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the order to go into effect until they decide the constitutionality of the order. The Court reconvenes in October.
Students at Louisiana colleges affected by the president’s travel ban
IRAN 148 students
LIBYA 9 students
SUDAN 5 students
SYRIA 11 students
YEMEN 5 students
178 total students