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Affiliates from across Harvard affected by President Donald Trump’s immigration order voiced concerns and posed questions to University administrators and staff at a town hall event Wednesday.
Since Friday, when Trump signed the order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days, Harvard students, faculty, and administrators have criticized and moved to respond to the order.
Mark C. Elliott, the Vice Provost for International Affairs who led the town hall, said administrators and staff have discussed the order during daily phone calls. Elliott added that officials in the Office of the General Counsel have been in touch with their counterparts at other universities, and that Harvard’s federal lobbying office has been “very active” responding to the order.
The town hall event was one of the measures University President Drew G. Faust outlined in a long email to Harvard affiliates Sunday addressing the executive order. In the email, Faust emphasized Harvard’s commitment to international students and called on politicians to reverse the ban, which also halts the entry of refugees for 120 days and Syrian refugees indefinitely.
Approximately 10,000 international students and scholars study or research at Harvard—more than any other higher education institution in the country, Harvard International Office Director of Immigration Services Maureen Martin said at the event. At least four Harvard affiliates have been unable to enter the United States since the order went into effect.
Martin and Jason M. Corral, an immigration attorney, fielded questions from the audience.
Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic recently hired Corral to offer legal counsel to those impacted by Trump’s immigration policies—a part of a series of steps Faust laid out in November to bolster resources for Harvard affiliates.
Uncertainty was a persistent theme throughout the event, as Martin and Corral emphasized that how federal officials will enforce the order—and whether the Trump administration would expand its scope—is still up in the air.
“It’s a fluid situation and it’s changing all the time,” Martin said. “How we answer a question today may not be how we answered it on Monday.”
In a section on travel tips, Martin advised students to carry a letter proving their enrollment at Harvard, the phone number of a Harvard official, and valid travel documents. Harvard has a travel-assist telephone number available 24 hours a day for affiliates to receive immediate help.
To broader questions, Corral and Martin urged attendees to exercise caution. Both warned international and undocumented affiliates not to travel, and suggested that they do not provide information to authorities and instead request a lawyer if questioned about their legal status.
Trump’s 90-day ban on travel will expire in April, close to the date of graduation. Martin said she is “pessimistic” about the prospect of family members from the implicated countries traveling to Harvard for the ceremonies.
The questions put forward to the panelists were often quite personal. One postdoctoral student working in a lab affiliated with the University said her work authorization will expire in four weeks, and she asked if centers affiliated with Harvard would offer support similar to what the University is offering its students and researchers.
An Iranian graduate student who said he cannot go back to Iran because he fears religious persecution asked about what the executive order meant for his application for refugee status.
And several undocumented students asked about the safety of domestic travel in light of other restrictive Trump immigration policies.
The panelists redirected many audience members who asked personal questions to representatives from the Harvard International Office in attendance.
“We’ll try to be as transparent as possible, but at the same time respect individuals and preserve confidentiality,” Corral said when asked about whether the University would communicate with the Harvard community about the status of affected individuals.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.
—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.
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