After President Trump signed an executive order calling for a ban on travelers from seven majority Muslim countries, U.S. colleges scrambled to figure out what it meant for their students from those regions.
In late June the Supreme Court approved a version of the travel ban that assured international students’ ability to leave and return to the United States. However, this clarification came months after students had to decide whether or not to visit family for the summer, leaving many of them stranded thousands of miles from home.
It’s summer term at the University of Oregon and aside from the occasional group of incoming freshmen touring campus, the grounds are eerily quiet. The majority of the university’s over 23,000 students go home for the summer. Some do choose to stay in town, completing requirements and getting classes out of the way.
But this year, for one small group of international students from the six countries still barred by the travel ban, staying back was more than just a time saving measure.
Alsadiq Ezuldeen Bin Eisa is a 22 year-old international student from Libya.
“I was really planning to go back but now we have the ban order that has stated by the president of U.S. Donald Trump,” says Bin Eisa. “And that was absolutely devastating to me because that was my only chance and my only hope to go in the five years length to see the family.”
Bin Eisa is studying biology at the UO on the prestigious Libyan – North American scholarship from the Canadian Bureau of International Education, also known as CBIE. Halfway through his studies, he is allowed one fully-funded trip home. He had been looking forward to the chance to visit his family for the first time in two and a half years, but that changed in January when President Trump first signed off on the travel ban. In the following months of ambiguity around the order’s specifications, Bin Eisa’s family convinced him to stay in Eugene - just to be safe.
“They wanted me to come so badly so I can see them after two years and a half but however they were the ones who told me 'Even if that goes ok, just stay there. Because we don’t want you to risk your degree. We have Skype we have -' you know family. A family love is a true love. They always want your success. No matter what the price is,” he says.
Bin Eisa is one of 35 international students at the UO from the six countries still affected by the travel ban. When the order was originally issued, it was unclear whether international students would be able to leave and reenter the country.
The June 26 version of the travel ban clarified international students can come and go as they wish. But that clarification came too late Bin Eisa, who had to make the choice earlier this spring between family and, potentially, his education. The UO’s Vice Provost of International Affairs, Dennis Galvan, says this doesn’t just come at an emotional price for students.
“It’s a sacrifice that students are making to not be able to go home to adjust their normal summer plans. Maybe they were going to have a summer job or visit family. So they’re sacrificing that for stability,” says Galvan.
Like many of their U.S.-based classmates, international students often go home to save money by living with family or work summer jobs. This makes staying in the U.S. is an unexpected and considerable expense. Galvan says the university does give out emergency scholarships for cases like this.
The scholarships aren’t contingent on whether a student is taking classes, but many choose to anyway. Since he isn’t going home,CBIE is requiring Bin Eisa to take classes during the summer. Though he says he doesn’t mind because studying helps distract him from thoughts of his family.
“Like now on weekends if I’m not doing anything I will be thinking of them about how they are or how they were are they safe right now are they away from troubles,” says Bin Eisa. “Just things like that. Just being busy sometimes is a good thing.”
Soroush Shiraza, a sophomore from Iran, is also keeping busy over the summer. On top of taking classes, he’s working three part-time jobs. One of which is playing piano in the student union.
Since the guidelines of the ban have been clarified, Shirazi says some of his friends from Iran who are at other U.S. universities have gone to visit their families. But for him, the risk still isn’t worth it.
“You have to look at the number one reason why you’re in the states or why you’re here as a student is to study and do your studies,” says Shirazi. “And if you’re already that far in…to risk it all? Just to visit family? They can wait. But at the same time it would be better if you could see them but it’s not that big of a burden to compare your life choices that will affect you years and years in the future and your temporary urges just to see family.”
Shirazi says he’s happier with this version of the travel ban, but at the same time the idea that the Supreme Court implemented it at all is disconcerting.
“It’s sort of double sided thing because on one side you’re happy it’s modified but at the same time the fact that the Supreme Court let the executive order go through it sort of makes you think – ‘They did that. They actually did that,’” he says.
Despite the impact the travel ban has had on their own lives, Shirazi and Bin Eisa are most critical of how it has barred refugees from coming to the US for 120 days.
“Those people have been tortured to death. They just want life. They want to breathe. They want to live like others. Rejecting them and saying ‘you cannot come,’ I think that’s absolutely a really hard thing to think of,” says Bin Eisa.
Neither student says the travel ban has impacted their views of Americans. In fact, Bin Eisa says public opposition of travel ban has helped him feel less alone.
“It really showed the real faces of Americans like how supportive to us they were,” he says. “They were going on the street and having signs that say “no Muslim ban.” It was Americans who have different religions and beliefs and I think the bottom line is we are all human beings and we should all support each other even if it’s for free. And that’s how they were doing it.”