As Students Endure Travel Ban, Universities May Hold The Key To Help

Jun 28, 2018

Credit (Alec Cowan/KLCC)

This story was produced in partnership with the University of Oregon-UNESCO Crossings Institute.

President Donald Trump’s travel ban was upheld in the Supreme Court Tuesday on a 5-4 decision. KLCC's Alec Cowan reports on how those at the University of Oregon are affected by the ban, and what role universities might play in helping students.

When I spoke to Wassim Noman in September, he was a typical college student at the University of Oregon. His friends call him Wes for short, and he was ready to start his second full year at the university.

WASSIM NOMAN: "I have two more years? Yeah, I’ve been here at UO for like two years, I've been at Lane for like three terms, so hopefully in like two years I’ll be graduating."

He studied hard on his midterms.

WASSIM NOMAN: "My midterms have been good, I’ve been studying for a long time."

He was taking his dog to the park to enjoy the weather.

WASSIM NOMAN: "Yeah, I got a dog. German Shephard, did you see him?" Wes asked. "Pablo, he’s getting big he’s like 8 months now."

In short, he was a normal business major enjoying the life of a university student.

Three years ago, Wes came to the United States from Yemen, a country in civil war.

WASSIM NOMAN: "I lived through the war for like 5-6 months, and it was one hell of an experience. And ever since then like everything’s changed, you can’t leave your house, you’re always worried about your life. My house got slugged out -- me and my family were in the house. Four missiles. I’m lucky, like I’m here, I’m blessed. My sisters’ okay, my mom, my dad. So it’s just a terrifying situation."

Wes planned on returning to Yemen this summer, but after the Supreme Court upheld the ban that could be dangerous.

WASSIM NOMAN: "My mom, my dad, my whole like family they’re still there, yeah," Wes says. "I tried to go back a couple times but it’s a risk that I don't want to take."

Wes and his sisters are citizens because of his dad, who attended the University of Oregon back in the 1980s. But his mom is only a citizen of Yemen, and hasn’t been able to leave.

WASSIM NOMAN: "My family, they’re just surviving over there. They're just moving from city to city. Once one city gets really really damaged or really really dangerous they just leave to a different city."

Because they have a bona fide relationship to someone in the United States, his family should be able to seek a waiver for the travel ban. But war has made that difficult.

Wes was a business major before changing to journalism, a field he thinks he would better excel at in the United States.
Credit (Wassim Noman/Instagram)

WASSIM NOMAN: "The thing is now everything in Yemen from like, embassies, everything is shut down." 

In order to file the right paperwork for his mom, Wes’ dad would have to leave Yemen.

WASSIM NOMAN: "He can’t do anything inside Yemen, he has to stay there for my mom and my sisters. You know it’s really dangerous so he can’t just leave and keep on going."

Wes had friends at the U of O from Yemen, but after their student visas expired they faced a tough decision to leave. Most are finishing their education in other countries.

WASSIM NOMAN: "So a lot of my friends they left, and they had like one more year and they were going to graduate and they could never come back. And the other thing was some of them just wanted to go and see their parents. Like I want to be free to leave and come back. Like I’m not a prisoner here."

Universities serve as hubs for international students, some of whom are from countries listed on the ban. The largest schools in Oregon have all had to deal with the executive order.

ROB HARDIN: "My name is Rob Hardin and I'm the senior assistant director for international student recruitment."

Hardin said that the university does not receive many applications from the seven banned countries, so it’s difficult to know how it’s affecting enrollment statistically. But he expresses that he has seen anxiety around the ban during his travels.

ROB HARDIN: "One of the dads -- this is all anecdotal of course -- but one of the dads asked me 'what happens if my daughter goes to your school and two years from now she comes home for break and your country doesn’t let her back in?' I had never heard a question like that before.”

International student enrollment at the U of O saw a drop coming into the 2017 fall term. While numbers around enrollment always fluctuate, Hardin notes he saw more insecurity from students thinking about coming to America.

ROB HARDIN: "I’ve always gotten questions about... you know will people like me or will they think that I’m, you know, an international student and not like me just for that fact alone, and I’ve been getting more of those type of questions."

DENNIS GALVAN: "So the travel ban, of course does two things: First it bans people from certain countries coming to the US, and some of them might be students at the U of O."

This is Dennis Galvan, the vice provost for international affairs at the University of Oregon.

DENNIS GALVAN"But more important than the actual ban is the chilling effect that it has on people from anywhere around the world, who are not sure if they’ll be the next target of the ban, if they’ll be misunderstood as targets of the ban -- so it has a wider effect."

Because of the university’s connections abroad, Galvan introduces a unique idea.

DENNIS GALVAN: "So the idea is perhaps we could make those places available for students from other countries, to go to these places overseas where we already are running study abroad classes, we kind of flip it and have international students join those classes. And that way they’re in a UO class, they’re gaining UO credit, but they’re not yet setting foot in Eugene."

Galvan proposes this idea to begin a discussion on how universities can aid affected students. However, the university has not taken any steps towards implementing it.

WASSIM NOMAN: "There’s no going back right now. There’s nothing right now, no jobs, there’s no life right now so I can’t just like go back. Everything changed so I have to start all over again."

When Wes first came to the U of O he majored in business and hoped to pick up the family company back in Yemen. The war has changed that.

WASSIM NOMAN: "People want to leave there just to live a normal life with peace. Just no gunshots, no bombing. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So that’s where they come, to America. It’s a huge country and they don’t ask for a lot. They just ask for a stay and job, something simple, you know? It’s just sad if somebody comes with nothing, and they come over to like a place with so many opportunities and they just get shut down, just like that."

Wes says he hopes universities can help affected students both with safety and finances, because in a country like Yemen money is hard to come by. Both Oregon State University and the University of Oregon recommend caution and international counsel for those from the banned countries traveling abroad.

For Wes, he’ll look to a future here in the United States.