by Christina Maxouris and Syrina Merilan
News headlines have been following an ongoing battle between the U.S. president and a federal judge who halted the administration’s executive order banning travelers from seven nations. But while members of the judicial system are fighting against the immigrant discrimination, Georgia legislators are promoting punishments for any universities that declare themselves ‘sanctuary campuses’.
Six days after swearing into office, President Donald Trump signed the ‘Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States’ order, banning immigrants from seven nations, which received criticism for allegedly targeting Muslims.
On Feb. 3, Federal Judge James Robart halted the order and as of then, the Department of Homeland Security has begun working to allow those immigrants into the country again. According to CNN, has “reversed the cancellation of visas that were provisionally revoked” after the president’s order.
For Syrian refugee Hisham Al-Ahmad, the temporary halt was a sigh of relief. Al-Ahmad has been in the U.S. for six months and said that he’d rather live here than his Syrian neighbors Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
“[In the U.S] you have your rights. All your rights. [In Saudi Arabia] 80 percent [of the time] you can not get your rights. In Jordan you have no rights,” he said. “You are a refugee in a country that doesn’t accept refugees. You’re in a situation [where] you’re in a gap. Now, [in the U.S] you have everything. It’s a dream compared to [living in] Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”
“I couldn’t stay there. They don’t give me papers. You can walk from my country to Saudi Arabia. They are like our same nation, because they speak the same tongue, they are the same religion and have the same culture. We are all the same but they say that we are not welcome there. They don’t give me papers like they do [in the U.S],” Rbea Krish, another Syrian refugee, said.
With the new executive order, Al-Ahmad and Krish feared for the family members still in Syria, because they may not have the chance to make it the U.S. Rbea Krish said that his mother is afraid to apply for a visa, because the chances of getting rejected are higher than ever before.
“My mom has a visa and she paid for the fees for the American Embassy and she didn’t make the interview. She was afraid to schedule the interview, because in this point in time, there is a higher opportunity to get rejected. She paid the fee before he made this ban. Now, we cannot visit them and they can’t visit us,” Krish said.
Once Trump signed the order, the U.S Department of State released a statement specifying that citizens from the barred countries should not schedule appointments for a visa and not to bother attending appointments they had already scheduled, because they would not be allowed to enter the Embassy.
And for Kamal Zakariya, a Syrian refugee, the ban is just another addition to the discrimination he encounters because of his Muslim religion.
“He is the president, he knows more than we do, but I have been here for a year and four months and until now I haven’t gotten any tickets as a refugee. Most of the refugees have never gotten tickets. We are very safe people,” Zakariya said.
“I didn’t encourage people to vote for Trump, but now I love this guy, because he is the president and that’s it. He won. I’m going to like him because he didn’t cheat, and I believe he came here for a reason,” said Krish.
The controversial sanctuary campus
With Trump’s to-be strict immigration policies and the uncertainty of the future for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students looming after the president’s inauguration, state Rep. Earl Ehrhart has put forth a bill which would penalize universities that do not work with federal immigration procedures.
DACA was a policy implemented under the Obama administration, which gave undocumented immigrants under the age of 16 years a renewable work permit and legal status in the U. S. But throughout his campaign, Trump promised to eliminate the program, which would disqualify a lot of current Georgia students from attending some of the state’s institutions.
Charles H. Kuck, managing partner of the Chuck Immigration Partners, told The Signal that DACA is safe for now, as the administration has continue to delay making any statements on the matter.
“[President Trump] is going to allow DACA to continue for now, hoping that Congress will address the law and fix these kids immigration status. [DACA recipients] will continue to be able to work, and hopefully if we are successful on appeal, obtain in-state tuition,” Kuck said, referring to an on-going court case between the University System of Georgia (USG) and recipients of DACA, which aims to grant students in-state tuition for Georgia colleges.
But many universities, including Emory, have come out and proposed becoming sanctuary campuses. In case Trump does shut down DACA, undocumented students will be forced out of the country and out of the U.S. education system. Emory has since then backed down from that possibility.
Ehrhart’s proposed bill would cut off funding for Georgia colleges that decide to not uphold the executive order and become a “sanctuary campus”. On Feb. 2, House Bill 37 (HB 37) was approved by a House Committee and is now continuing to make its way through the Capitol.
Ehrhart’s bill is expected to ban state and federal funds to private institutions that encourage employees to disobey the current administration’s immigration policies, but the bill does adhere to the existing law that protects the privacy of student’s records.
“If you are not following the law, you are not going to receive funding,” Ehrhart said during Wednesday’s hearing of the bill.
But in other parts of town, students are preparing to combat such an outcome.
Georgia State’s Clarkston campus is in the center of a city known as ‘the Ellis Island of the South’. Clarkston has been a refugee hub for years, and mayor Edward Terry said the ban would have a ‘huge impact’ on the local economy, whose refugee population accounts for about $2 million every year. While Georgia House and Senate members looks to punish sanctuary campuses, students in Clarkston are already digging into ways to combat the measures.
Student Government Association (SGA) Financial Director at the Clarkston campus Franklin Patterson said the school and SGA have been doing a lot to aid the surrounding refugee communities.
He said that in the past, SGA, along with the campus’ History and Politics club, have provided student refugees with the ability to take English as a Second Language classes or walk around campus and “deal with basic communications” in efforts to help improve their English.
“We’re trying to reach out to the community, we work with some of the refugees around town and donate clothes, shoes, cans, food,” he said, adding that SGA has been involved in that process for about two years.
He said the new bill is on the association’s radar, and they’re trying to take steps to “get ahead of it”. Patterson said their most important focus would be educating the refugee population and students.
“We will try to make sure we can get some lawyers to talk to students and refugees about the refugee situation and give them their rights,” he said. “On that basis, they know what rights they do hold even though they’re not citizens of the United States, and they know what things they can do to protect themselves.”
Associate Director for the International Center for Public Policy for Georgia State Paul Benson said that although the countries barred are not in direct relation with the university, it will still be affected.
“Much of GSU’s international reputation comes from the work that we have engaged in for the past 25-30 years as a center. Annually, we provide fiscal policy training to around 200 government officials per year from around the world. Many of these trainees are Muslim from places like Kenya, Indonesia, Nigeria, etc,” Benson said. “The ban, even though it is not on the countries where these participants come from, is going to make it much more difficult for us as a research institution to keep up and maintain our courses and faculty exchanges. Instead of looking to centers like ours in the United States, they will start looking to other countries for assistance like European countries and Australia.”
Michelle Tabrizi contributed to this article.