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Students, Faculty Feel Brunt of Chilling Order

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On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the decision to prevent President Donald Trump’s executive order to temporarily restrict immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, yet students and faculty at the University at Albany are still grappling with the order’s intentions.

Just a week after taking office on Jan. 20, Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya. Individuals in the U.S. with visas who under regular circumstances would be able to travel to their home country and return to the United States were also banned from re-entering.

Additionally, under what has been coined as the “Muslin ban,” refugees would not be admitted into the United States for 90 days and all Syrian refugees would be banned indefinitely.

At UAlbany, there are 35 international students and several faculty members who come from the countries included in the ban, and although none of the students were abroad while the ban was issued, it had and continues to have a lasting effect on the UAlbany community.

Ali Alaei, a visiting scholar, encountered trouble when he tried returning to the U.S. with a J1 scholar’s visa on Feb. 11. He was returning from a visit to his father in his home country of Iran. His brothers Arash and Kamiar Alaei are both faculty members at UAlbany where they also serve as co-directors for the Global Institute of Health and Human Rights.

Ali, an associate dean at Kermanshah University’s School of Architecture, was returning to the U.S. as a visiting scholar to lecture at UAlbany, specifically on the influence of Persian architecture on the architecture of the university’s uptown campus, according to his brother Kamiar.

With the help of UAlbany, Albany Law School, and local congress members, Kamiar said that the Alaei family was able to “highlight how important it is to have Ali back based on national interest,” and the younger brother was able to return Jan. 7.

The fear that the Alaei brothers had of being unable to reunite with their younger brother, has been a similar concern for students and other faculty members from those countries as well.

One Iranian student, who is majoring in urban and regional planning and spoke with the Albany Student Press on the condition of anonymity, expressed worry about being reunited with her family.

“I will not have my family around me for my graduation ceremony in May and I did not know how to tell my mom that she cannot visit me anymore,” she said. “This was the first effect.”

In the weeks following the announcement of the ban, she began feeling scared and noticed how the ban was affecting her daily life.

“I really could not focus on my courses or on my job; I spent a lot of time following the news … I feel like I am experiencing a completely different country in just three weeks.”

The inability to focus was also a concern of an Iraqi student who is pursuing his Ph.D. in literature at UAlbany.

“Whether international students leave the US or not in fear of being banned from re-entering, it has a psychological impact on them and it makes them worried about their future,” Miaad Mahmood said.

Upon Trump’s announcement of the ban, UAlbany’s International Employee services advised one Iranian professor to postpone any travel abroad until things have been settled with the ban. Despite having a green card, the professor, who requested to remain anonymous, cancelled his summer trip to Iran and his plans to visit Europe in the fall as a visiting scholar as a safety precaution.

He also acknowledged the implications the ban would have for his family and colleagues.

“On my parents’ and family’s side, they used to make regular U.S. trips to visit me on visitor visas, but with the ban, they would not be able to do so … I also feel bad for all my Iranian colleagues in Canada and Europe who regularly attended the conferences we went to annually, and they will not be able to come to the U.S. for those conferences anymore,” he said.

The ban posed several professional implications for the Alaei brothers as well.

At GIHHR, Arash and Kamiar partner with universities across the world, specifically in the Middle East, to improve access to healthcare. Their institute aims to bridge the gap between health and human rights throughout the world.

Their research, which focuses on HIV/AIDs prevention and substance use, and preexisting partnerships are particularly important in this region because there are not many scholars doing research on these topics in the Middle East.

Kamiar noted that while the immigration ban has been suspended, there has been talk of another ban being implemented, raising more concerns for the brothers and their work.

“We don’t want those scholars in the Middle East to have a misunderstanding that academies in the U.S. are closing their doors to them,” Kamiar said. “We are independent and want to open the door for them because those young scholars are the ones who change the future in their own country.”

A similar concern for the future of international collaborations was shared by Kamiar’s older brother Arash.

“How can we say that these countries can improve our programs and be a part of the worldwide network when we discriminate against them?” he asked.

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