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Union Organizers Continue Criticism of University’s Response to Immigration Petition

By Caroline S. Engelmayer, Crimson Staff Writer

Some Harvard graduate students continue to criticize Harvard’s response to President Donald Trump’s immigration orders more than a month after they presented a petition to University President Drew G. Faust requesting additional support for international students.

More than 800 people have signed the petition, which the International Student Working Group prepared last month. It urges Harvard to provide more legal, mental health, and immigration support resources for international students affected by Trump’s orders.

On Jan. 27, Trump released an executive order that temporarily banned immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. On Feb. 2 and Feb. 21, Faust signed letters to Trump urging him to repeal the order.

Although the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that order, Trump released an updated version of the ban that bars immigrants from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. A Hawaii district court struck down the ban before it could take effect.

In the petition, delivered to Faust on Feb. 21, students asked for legal and financial support for international students, as well as “immediate and transparent communication” about the effects that immigration policy changes could have on students.

In response to Trump’s orders, Harvard held 18 information sessions about the bans that attracted over 1,000 students. The University has also offered written legal advice to students affected by the ban through the Immigration and Refugee Clinic and has conducted counseling sessions for students through Harvard University Health Services.

Harvard also hired another advisor in the International Office to help international students navigate effects that Trump’s immigration bans will have on them.

But some members of ISGW maintain that Harvard’s response to the immigration orders has been too little too late. Specifically, they argue that Global Support Services, a group that helps Harvard affiliates traveling abroad, cannot adequately assist international students who need to reenter the country.

“It’s a 24 hour service primarily intended for medical emergencies and extreme political events, not immigration services,” Niharika N. Singh, a member of ISWG, said.

According to a Harvard Gazette article about the University’s response to the executive order, Harvard affiliates who are denied reentry to the U.S. can contact “six law firms and legal aid organizations” through Global Support Services.

Signatories of the petition said they were reluctant to use the Immigration and Refugee Clinic, another resource for international students.

“These clinics are used by the broader community—we might be overwhelming and expanding the capacity of already highly busy organizations,” Laura Correa Ochoa, another member of ISWG, said.

Likewise, union organizers asserted that Harvard has not provided mental health resources that adequately address the needs of students affected by the ban.

“Mental health care is quite complicated and often inaccessible,” Correa Ochoa said, urging the University to “hire or train medical practitioners so that they are attentive to the kinds of issues that are affecting international students,” including “cultural or religious concerns.”

But Harvard asserted that it has worked to support international students and respond to the demands outlined in the petition.

“Over the past several months, the University has worked to provide additional resources and support and to advocate for our international students and scholars, who play a critical role in Harvard’s academic mission,” University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson wrote in an email.

Union organizers also said that Harvard waited too long to respond to the petition.

On March 1, one week after graduate students delivered the petition to Faust, graduate students said they received an email informing them of resources they could access in the aftermath of the executive order. On March 15, signatories of the petition received an email from Paul R. Curran, Director of Employee and Labor Relations, responding to their demands.

In his email, Curran encouraged them to read a Jan. 29 letter Faust sent to the Harvard community that outlined the University’s response to the executive order and an article published by the Harvard Gazette on the same day he sent his email.

“The University will continue to monitor developments in this space and will adopt as circumstances may evolve,” he wrote.

But Singh and other union organizers did not think this response was adequate.

“The first official response that we received from the administration was nearly three or so weeks after the delivery of the petition,” Singh said, adding it was “remarkable” that Harvard did not respond sooner.

While union organizers criticized the University’s response to some of the petition’s demands, they praised Harvard’s March 1 announcement that the University would pause GSAS students’ G clocks--the number of years that students have to complete a PhD--if they are stuck abroad.

“In some sense, they do address the concerns,” Correa Ochoa said. “For example, G clock pauses—that’s something they addressed.”

The union’s criticisms of Harvard’s response to the petition come during a contentious unionization election. The University and Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers have until April 3 to file post-hearing briefs with the National Labor Relations Board. After receiving these briefs, the NLRB could decide the fate of student unionization at Harvard.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

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