Travel ban cripples scientific community

Demonstrators chant and wave signs as they march beside University Blvd. at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to support an open campus and oppose the travel ban imposed by President Donald Trump Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (Gary Cosby Jr./AP)

Last month, Ali Abdhi, an Iranian Ph.D. student of anthropology at Yale University visited Afghanistan to do research and was prohibited from reentering the United States, despite holding an active green card, The Atlantic reported last month. Around the same time, Erfan Mohammadi, an Iranian chemical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois, was separated from his family and his fiancé, who cannot travel to the U.S. to join him, according to the Washington Post. In a similar situation, Colorado State University Ph.D. candidate Hanan Isweiri and her son visited Libya for a family funeral and was delayed nine days while trying to return to the U.S. even though she held a valid visa.

What is the commonality between all of these cases? They all occurred after President Trump signed Executive Order 13769, which imposes a travel ban on the predominantly-Muslim countries of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days and halts refugee traffic into the United States for 120 days.

Since its inception on January 27 of this year, the order has become a daunting barrier for many Muslims trying to enter and reenter the United States, and it has both separated families and caused Americans with valid visas and green cards to be stranded in foreign countries. While there are many reasons to oppose this outrageous abuse of executive power, it is important to consider the ban’s effect on the scientific community, which has already seen its devastating impact.

Of the 29 million scientists and engineers residing in the United States, about 5.2 million of them are immigrants, according to the National Science Foundation. Immigrants also make up about 30 percent of American Nobel laureates, according to the Vilcek Foundation, which promotes the contributions of immigrants in America. While it is true that not all of these scientists would be blocked by the travel ban, Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, told the New York Times that an estimated 17,000 university students are from the affected countries.

As a result, many students who traveled to these countries for conferences or to visit family have been barred from reentering the United States, despite the validity of their green cards and visas. Those who are currently studying in the U.S. have effectively been trapped, fearing that if they leave the country, they will not be able to return to complete their studies. Some universities, including the University of Connecticut, have even advised foreign students not to exit the country. President Susan Herbst said just as much in an email to all students following the executive order. The email also offered international students access to guidance and called the order “harmful to UConn” and “antithetical to [university] values,” according to a Feb. 3 Daily Campus report. Dean of Engineering Kazem Kazerounian and other university faculty have also sent out emails in support of the students.

These students are people we study with and work with on a day-to-day basis, who teach and TA our classes and make brilliant contributions to science and the arts. There is no reason they should ever have to be barred from returning to school, or attending conferences to present their research. There is no reason they should be trapped in the United States or have to fear for their right to return despite having a valid visa or green card. And there is absolutely no reason they should be prevented from visiting their families abroad.

As of now, many students and scientists are reconsidering the United States as an adequate location for their studies. If this travel ban, which may well be on its way to the Supreme Court, continues to be implemented, researchers will flock to other countries to continue their education. Some of those that are already studying in the U.S. are considering leaving, but a number of them cannot return to their home countries for political reasons.

Science, research and education used to be even ground for students from all nations. They could pursue a number of fields in collaboration with other countries and work on projects to improve humanity as a whole, irrespective of borders. But until this executive order is repealed, political intervention will continue to disrupt the scientific community and interfere with the right of so many researchers to the education of their choice.


Alex Oliveira is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.