Two weeks ago, an incoming student’s arrival at Harvard College was put in jeopardy when United States border officials denied him entry into the country. Despite having applied for and secured the necessary and proper permissions to enter the country, his visa was cancelled.
The student — Ismail B. Ajjawi ’23 — has fortunately since arrived on campus. Ajjawi received legal aid from Harvard’s immigration lawyers and non-profit organization AMIDEAST. His story also sparked outcry from Harvard affiliates and the attention of the international media.
But Ajjawi is by no means the only student whose ability to study has been impeded by restrictive immigration policies. It’s important to remain conscious of the many students whose international and undocumented status limits their ability to work and learn in our country and on our campus.
Concerns about their immigration status weigh heavily on the minds of students around the country. Across the U.S. there are over a million international students and thousands of undocumented students, every one of whom — and some more than others — live with the knowledge that at any moment, they or their families could have their place in this country taken away. This fear is corrosive, fundamentally detracting from their ability to learn and to contribute to their campuses.
Non-citizen students undergo the same admissions processes and meet the same standards their peers do. Yet they are faced with a burden of uncertainty their peers can never understand. In the case of undocumented students, this uncertainty extends beyond their immigration status — it implicates the future and security of themselves, their families, and their communities. Day in and day out, many students are burdened by the possibility that they will not be allowed to arrive in the U.S. or return home.
Indeed, the number of international students is declining, as U.S. policy becomes less open to their presence. For example, a policy memorandum issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service in August 2018 threatened to restrict the future of international students by changing the way in which “unlawful presence” is calculated, though a judge issued a temporary injunction on the order in May. At the same time, the Trump administration continues to threaten the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, leaving young undocumented students in a state of vulnerability and uncertainty.
It is important to recognize that the widespread and proactive response the incoming freshman received just last week hinged largely on the fact that he was admitted to a prominent university like Harvard. Across the country, many other international students and undocumented students in less public circumstances will face the same challenges, but may not be afforded such support.
Moreover, the xenophobia and Islamophobia potentially at the root of the student’s deportation does not vanish with his arrival. Though officials gave no reason for his deportation, the act is indicative of a broader culture of prejudice against Muslim and Middle Eastern individuals that has arisen, leaving many in fear. We must remain critical of the anti-immigrant rhetoric and public policies perpetrated by the Trump administration, and work to promote its end.
We praise Harvard for its swift defense of this student and its continued vocal acknowledgement that the Trump administration’s immigration policy is a detriment to scholarly excellence and intellectual freedom. But more work and action is needed. We call on Harvard’s leadership to work harder to create a positive and safe space for international and undocumented students, and to continue to push for public policy that creates a more open and welcoming country. That’s not only paramount for the production of globally rooted knowledge, but also for Harvard’s leadership in creating a more ethical world.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.