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. Those at the University of Oregon are adapting to life under the ban, but universities may hold the key to helping those seeking refuge.

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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"I lived through the war for like 5-6 months, and it was one hell of an experience" Wes said. "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.

"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 says. 

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.

"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)

"The thing is now everything in Yemen from Embassies, everything is shut down," Wes explains.

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

"He can’t do anything inside Yemen, he has to stay there for my mom and my sisters. 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.

"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," Wes says. "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, the senior assistant director for international student recruitment at the U of O, 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.

"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.

"I’ve always gotten questions about... 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 types of questions."

"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," says Dennis Galvan, the vice provost for international affairs at the U of O. "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.

"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," Galvan explains. "And that way they’re in a UO class, they’re gaining UO credit, but they’re not yet setting foot in Eugene."

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

"There’s no going back right now," Wes says. "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.

"People want to leave there just to live a normal life with peace. No gunshots, no bombing. And there’s nothing wrong with that," he says. "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 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.