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UPDATED: February 22, 2017 at 2:07 p.m.
Graduate student union organizers are calling on University President Drew G. Faust to provide additional support for international and undocumented students amid uncertainties generated by President Donald Trump’s seven-country travel ban.
In a petition organizers delivered to Massachusetts Hall Tuesday afternoon, members of Harvard’s student unionization effort contend that the University’s response to Trump’s order—which bars immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries—was not prompt or strong enough. In particular, the petition demands that the Harvard pledge financial and legal support for students impacted by Trump’s immigration policies.
“International students and scholars require much greater and more concrete legal, political and institutional support from the administration to guarantee their physical and emotional wellbeing and working conditions, as well as the integrity of the larger Harvard community, in the face of ongoing and anticipated attacks,” the petition reads.
The International Scholars Working Group of the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers organized the petition, which over 600 students from across the University signed. Organizers said existing union infrastructure helped them mobilize students around the petition.
The travel ban, now suspended after an appellate court decision earlier this month, has sparked protests around the country, and at Harvard, fear among international students. More than 100 Harvard students and scholars are citizens of the seven countries, and at least four were initially barred from the country. Trump’s administration has pledged to unveil a revised order as soon as this week.
Harvard has roughly 10,000 international students and scholars in total, according to the Harvard International Office.
The University has taken a number of steps to respond to the immigration ban. The day after Trump signed the order, the HIO sent a message to international students urging them not to travel, and Faust wrote a letter to Harvard affiliates expressing support for international students the next day. In her letter, Faust offered legal advice through the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Law Clinic and announced information sessions for affected students, among other measures.
But the graduate students say these responses were not sufficient.
Beyond financial and legal support for students, the petition requests “immediate and transparent communication” about Harvard’s understanding of immigration changes and effects that they could have on students. Student organizers said messages from the HIO did not reach students with green cards, since the office only tracks visa holders.
“The response to this from the administration has almost been privatized, in some sense,” Eben Lazarus, a graduate student, said. “The burden of responsibility has been put on individual students to figure out how to respond to this in whatever way they find best.”
The HIO messages also lacked information about how Trump’s order might impact different types of visas, Colombian-Canadian graduate student Laura Correa Ochea said.
University spokesperson Melodie Jackson wrote in a statement that the University is still deciding how to support students affected by Trump’s immigration policies.
“This is a fluid situation and, as reflected by the many activities we’ve undertaken, we are working to evaluate how we can appropriately support members of our community,” she wrote.
The petition also asks for extensions for students’ G-clocks, which measure the number of years that they have been studying towards a PhD, if they are unable to enter the United States.
“GSAS works directly with individual students to address issues related to G-clock adjustments and funding, because the circumstances are unique to the individual,” said University spokesperson Ann Hall. “If a student faced a situation that prevented them from returning to the country, the Office of Student Affairs would work with them to determine next steps and support.”
While it is difficult to anticipate what policies the Trump administration will unveil and how they will impact Harvard affiliates, graduate student organizers described the measures they outline in the petition as institutional safeguards.
“These are contingency plans that we can sort of deploy to ease as much as possible the situation,” Correa Ochea said.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: February 22, 2017
A previous version of this article misstated the number of international students at Harvard.
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