University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote a letter to United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan last week to share his “deep concern” about uncertainty over immigration policies under President Donald Trump’s administration.
Bacow wrote in the July 10 letter that he understands the agencies have the duty and obligation to ensure that those who come to the U.S. do so legally, but that he is disturbed about the policies affecting international students and scholars. He wrote that the uncertainty surrounding immigration policies is “driving anxiety and fear” on campus.
“Students report difficulties getting initial visas—from delays to denials,” Bacow wrote. “Scholars have experienced postponements and disruptions for what have previously been routine immigration processes such as family visas, renewals of status, or clearance for international travel.”
Spokespeople for Pompeo and McAleenan did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday morning.
The Trump administration has put forward numerous policies that seek to curtail the number of immigrants that enter and live within the United States. In addition to Trump’s long-time promise to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, the administration has widely publicized Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in major U.S. cities, and members of Trump’s administration have proposed policies that would enact a new merit-based system for legal immigrants seeking to enter the country.
Bacow’s letter was not his first attempt to address how new immigration policies impact foreign students at Harvard. In the year since his inauguration, Bacow has advocated for protecting undocumented immigrants on various lobbying trips to Washington D.C. Last year, he met with a group of faculty, staff, and students concerned with the status of Harvard’s undocumented population.
In his most recent letter, Bacow specifically pointed out Dreamers — participants of an Obama-era program that allows undocumented youth brought to the U.S. by their parents to live and work in the United States — as one of the most “vulnerable” in the “current environment of uncertainty.”
“I have had the opportunity to meet many of Harvard’s Dreamers, and I have been deeply impressed by them and their determination, talent, and commitment to excel,” Bacow wrote.
Bacow also identified recipients of Temporary Protected Status — a program offering legal protection to immigrants from countries plagued by violence or natural disasters — as “at risk” under the Trump administration. The White House attempted to terminate TPS for more than 250,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Sudan, but a federal court judge issued an injunction in October blocking the order. Dozens of staff members at Harvard are TPS recipients from the targeted countries.
Bacow noted that “science and security concerns” — including stricter visa policies — which affect a “few specific countries” also cause concern among students and faculty.
“While we support appropriate measures to safeguard valuable intellectual property, national defense, and sensitive, emerging technologies, singling out one country and its citizens is incompatible with the culture and mission of higher education and our national ideals,” he wrote.
Professors and researchers of Chinese descent have faced more intense inspection from U.S. airport security and when applying for American visas in recent months.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an email that Bacow has been in Washington, D.C. since Monday to meet with lawmakers and attend a reception for the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics’s Summer in Washington Program.
Swain noted Bacow had scheduled meetings with several members of Congress including Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Representative Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), and Representative Richard Neal (D-Mass.) during his trip.
Bacow periodically meets with legislators to discuss issues of higher education. In interviews, he has cited immigration as one of the frequent topics of discussion with policymakers.
Bacow is not meeting with Pompeo or McAleenan, but is sharing concerns outlined in his letter with legislators, according to Swain.
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Correction: July 17, 2019
A previous version of this article misquoted University President Lawrence S. Bacow's letter. In fact, he wrote that singling out one country and its citizens is "incompatible" with the culture and mission of higher education. He did not write "compatible."