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Bacow Pens Letter to Trump Urging Reconsideration of Travel Ban

University President Lawrence S. Bacow expressed concerns about federal travel restrictions in a letter to the White House.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow expressed concerns about federal travel restrictions in a letter to the White House. By Camille G. Caldera
By Michelle G. Kurilla and Ruoqi Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

University President Lawrence S. Bacow penned a letter on Jan. 27 to President Donald J. Trump about his concerns regarding the a possible expansion of the travel ban — a federal policy announced in early 2017 that restricted entry to the United States from several Muslim-majority countries.

Days after Bacow’s letter, Trump announced that another six countries — Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Myanmar — would be added to the travel ban starting February 22.

Since moving into Massachusetts Hall, Bacow has lobbied in the nation’s capital to bolster protections for immigrants, international scholars, and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs.

DACA is an Obama-era program that allows some young undocumented people to live and work in the United States; TPS is a program that grants immigrants from certain countries protected status because they cannot return home due to circumstances like ongoing armed conflict and environmental disaster.

Bacow also wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan last July regarding his “deep concern” about the administration’s immigration policy.

Bacow wrote that the travel ban and the Trump administration’s immigration policies “sow fear” among Harvard affiliates.

“These restrictive travel and immigration policies sow fear in our community, disrupt scholarship, and deter international students from considering postsecondary education in the US,” Bacow wrote. “As the purview of these orders has expanded, students, faculty, and scholars from other countries worry that their immigration status could be revoked at any time — and with no consideration of their conduct or intent.”

The White House could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The travel ban drew intense criticism after its announcement and faced challenges in multiple federal courts, leading to a legal battle in front of the Supreme Court. The Court ultimately upheld the ban in 2018.

In the letter, Bacow wrote that the bans have “prevented” or “hindered” universities from recruiting students, faculty, and scholars. He added that the bans have made collaboration with other universities more difficult.

Bacow wrote he supports and appreciates federal efforts to keep the nation secure, but believes the government should pursue alternatives to this particular policy.

“I believe we can respond to those challenges in a way that echoes the founding ideals of our country — countless people have looked to us for hope, for the chance to learn, to contribute, and to lead better and safer lives,” Bacow wrote. “My father and my mother were two of them, and they taught me that this country is great because its doors are open to the world.”

Before the announcement, the travel ban barred entry from seven countries to varying degrees. The updated travel ban will prohibit some types of immigrant visas — but not student visas — from the newly added countries.

Harvard has consistently lobbied for immigration-related proposals in both the House of Representatives and Senate. Since the start of 2019, Harvard’s Office of Federal Relations has worked on immigration reform issues, student visas, and issues pertaining to international students and scholars, according to the office’s disclosure under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

“Immigration issues like OPT, DACA, TPS and the concerns of international students are a focus of the University’s federal activities with engagement with policy makers and key administration officials,” University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement.

Bacow closed his letter by encouraging the president to enact policies that would make America the “destination of choice” for top scholars across the globe.

“I hope you will do more to advocate for the United States as the destination of choice for the world’s best students, faculty, and scholars, regardless of nationality — and enact policies that make that possible,” he wrote.

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.

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