In early February, Rawan Tayoon joined hundreds of protesters at the Los Angeles International Airport to speak out against President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. Tayoon, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a social activist who works with Syrian refugees, and said that she saw the impact Trump’s actions had on her peers.
“I have a friend who is a refugee from Syria, who has been here for about a year and a half now and was waiting for his grandmother to get asylum and join them,” Tayoon said. “The reality for Syrian refugees is that the ban is still indefinite and my friend cannot go see her, nor can she come see them, and this was very emotional for me to see.”
Trump’s initial executive order barred citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days, and blocked entry to Syrian refugees for 120 days. Though a recent amendment exempts green card holders and those with valid visas, many students at USC are still feeling the impact of the order. According to data collected by College Factual from the Department of Homeland Security in 2015, USC has 252 students on visas from the temporarily banned countries, the second-highest number of student visas of any university in the United States after Texas A&M University.
Varun Soni, dean of the Office of Religious Life, said he was concerned when the order came out a few weeks ago because he saw that it had a dramatic impact on students and staff at USC. Soni said that approximately 200 of the affected students at USC were from Iran.
“Fortunately, our semester starts early and so all our students were already on campus when the travel ban happened,” Soni said. “So, we did not have students who were stranded outside the United States.”
However, many students began to question what the ban meant on their ability to travel internationally, the ability of their families to come visit them during graduation and its effect on future employment opportunities. Students were uncertain of the scope of the ban and what it meant along with how it was being applied.
Somayeh, an international student from Iran who requested that her last name be withheld to protect her privacy, expressed her frustration with the executive order.
“I felt very sad and disappointed,” Somayeh said. “None of these seven countries had any history of terrorism in the U.S. Seeing our family is the first need of human rights for everybody, regardless of which country you were born.”
When the travel ban was first issued, many citizens of the affected countries were immediately detained and deported, creating chaos and confusion at airports around the United States. Somayeh said that she watched videos of the events as they were occurring and sympathized with the people who were sent back to their countries of origin.
“It was very sad [to be] humiliated for carrying the name of particular countries [where] you were born,” Somayeh said. “The diversity and welcoming intelligent people made the U.S. a great country for now [but] not for the future.”
The Association of American Universities, which represents over 60 leading research universities in the United States, including USC, denounced the ban shortly after it was announced. According to the statements released by the AAU, Trump should rescind the travel ban because of its negative impact on students and should reiterate the United States’ commitment to be the leader in the higher education of the world.
“We cannot be the leader without freedom of thought movement,” Soni said. “We cannot recruit the best and brightest student scholars in the world if there is a travel ban, which seems to undermine our values as a research institute.”
Apart from those who were from the seven countries, several students from other Muslim-majority countries also raised concerns, as they are still unsure if the travel ban would include other Muslim countries in the future or not. Soni said that a Pakistani student approached him because he wanted to visit Pakistan for his brother’s wedding, but Soni advised him not to. Soni also recently told an Indonesian student not to leave the country for a community service-based spring break trip.
“It broke my heart to do so,” Soni said. “We are at a point where many of our students just have a bunch of bad options. Yes, it’s true that Pakistan is not on that list, but what happens if suddenly there is a new executive order when he is abroad?”
Faisal, a Ph.D. student at USC, who requested that his last name be withheld to protect his privacy, has similar fears even though he is from Saudi Arabia, a country which is currently not included in the travel ban. Faisal is equally worried for his friends from Iran, as he thinks their future is now uncertain.
“It’s really scary to come across such news,” Faisal said. “I am afraid to go back to see my family, afraid that while I am there they might include Saudi Arabia in the list of banned countries.”
According to Soni, USC is a diverse global community with students from more than 130 different countries, representing every religion in the world and with different perspectives and experiences. Soni said that USC is working very carefully and closely with students, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, who have been or will be admitted from the seven countries affected by the travel ban to make sure they are accommodated.
“You are part of the Trojan family and what it means to be a part of the Trojan family is that you are loved, valued, cherished and celebrated,” Soni said. “I don’t want the students to feel like they are alone in any of this, whether they are international, undocumented or Muslim students. I want them to know that the University cares a lot about them and that there are resources on campus to support them.”