Written by Mel Walton 

The Motivations, The Controversy, and How it Could Affect SCAD Students

On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order implementing a 120-day freeze on immigration from Syria, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Sudan. According to White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, this freeze is intended to give the administration time to create a tighter screen for vetting nationals from these countries as part of the administration’s staunch anti-terrorism tactics.

The National Law Review states that the entry ban excludes persons “traveling to the United States on diplomatic visas, NATO visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, and G-4 visas, but includes those entering the United States on L-1, H-1B, and most work visas. It also applies to those who hold nonimmigrant visas, such as H-1Bs and L-1s, and green card holders.”

While the main demographic group in the international conversation about the order are Syrian refugees, perhaps the most controversial part of the order is its ban on visa and green-card holders who have lived in the United States for years. This will impact people ranging from important military translators to film directors to even Ph.D. students.

The first night of the order, protests erupted throughout American airports when travelers returning to the United States were detained upon arrival, their flights in air when the Order came down. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union worked with the detainees pro-bono that night and received a temporary freeze through New York Judge Ann M. Donnelly. 

This allowed detainees to be released instead of deported upon arrival, including a woman from Syria who attempted suicide at JFK upon hearing that she would be sent back to the land that she escaped from.

This order seeks to protect the American people by preemptively preventing a reprise of the 9/11 attacks, the shooting at San Bernardino and the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Fla. that took place last year.  It’s also a response to President Trump’s campaign trail lament that we have no reliable vetting process in place to inspect these people coming in. The process we have right now for vetting refugees is a four-year, nine-step process, which lets in 1% of the applicants from the global refugee population.

While many who work in this department say that we have some of the tightest screening procedures in the world, supporters and critics of the process both admit that the one real difficulty is accessing all of the vital records for some applicants, who may have lost parts of their records to incessant bombings and multi-pronged devastation of residential areas and federal records buildings. Click here to see a White House infographic on the full vetting process.

On a SCAD student level:

We caught up with some of our fellow SCAD students who come from nations blocked out by the ban. When asked about her reaction to the Executive Order, Syrian architecture student Bana Balleh told us:

“To be honest, when I first heard the news, I instantly had back a feeling I constantly felt when I was witnessing war in Syria: uncertainty, unsafe, and loneliness above all, now that I know that I won’t be able to see my parents for an additional two years… it just breaks my heart to see families separated, and people who are my neighbors and family being categorised as criminals who should be kept out of the country…yet, it was amazing how supportive my friends and coworkers are here in Savannah!

“As for my future here at SCAD, I’m still not sure to what extent the executive order effects it: what I know now is that there’s definitely no way I can leave the US before I graduate because I would be denied entry even if I have the student visa with me… It affected my classes: it was extremely distracting for me and I wasn’t able to concentrate 100% on my work.”

That uncertainty is the most common thread that has come up among these students. Maneli Sarmadi is a jewelry design grad student from Iran, who moved to the United States with her husband in 2014 after getting her first degree in Industrial Design from the University of Tehran. Her husband took a trip back to Iran this winter to see family and pick up some work but is now barred from returning into the country.

She mentioned being worried about when she’s going to be able to be reunited with him, wondering if she’ll be able to keep a job here in the United States after graduating, despite being a jewelry design intern with Adama Partners in New York City.

She told us that it’s frustrating for the government to be punishing students and families who have already been through a multi-year vetting process and appeals to get their visas. She also said that she never imagined that she would run into this sort of demonization from the US government, and is unsure what this all means for her future.


Illustration by Nina Fromal

Reactions to the executive order: 

While some pundits and politicians applauded the swift, decisive action taken by the President, critics across the board have become concerned about the possible secondhand consequences that could come out of this action. The pushback has ranged from strong conservatives saying that while the order is well-intended and necessary as a matter of national security, the hasty manner of release left a big opening for public confusion.

They believe that it would have gone over better with the public had it been rolled out on a weekday with a lengthy press release, thereby avoiding the situation of blocking persons who have already been vetted, approved, and assimilating for years.

Others are calling the order unconstitutional, in reference to the Immigration Act of 1965, which states that “no person may be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigration visa because of a person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” On Friday, Feb. 3,  Bush-appointed Federal Judge Raskin of Washington State put a restraining order on the ban, declaring that it is 1) harmful to local businesses and state schools in blocking workers and students from returning to the country 2) Discriminatory against persons of the Islamic faith, and 3) that he needed to be sure it was based on objective “fact instead of fiction.”  

The restraining order effectively blocks the ban in practice for the moment, on the grounds of the ban being dangerous to the public good. The Department of Justice has released a statement in opposition, asserting that the executive order is “a lawful exercise of the President’s authority over the entry of aliens into the United States and the admission of refugees.”

The Department of Justice supports that argument with Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that the president may “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem appropriate,” according to conservative news source CSNews.com.

The crux of this court battle exists at the intersection of those two statements in the Immigration and Nationality Act, and the intersection of beliefs from the right and left on whether or not this comprehensive executive order is the best course of action across the board on how to handle these issues of national security.

According to a 41-year Terror and Immigration Risk Analysis study conducted by the Cato Institute, there have been “154 foreign-born terrorists in the United States who killed 3,024 people in attacks from 1975 through the end of 2015. Ten of them were illegal immigrants, 54 were lawful permanent residents (LPR), 19 were students, 1 entered on a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, 20 were refugees, 4 were asylum seekers, 34 were tourists on various visas, and 3 were from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries.

During that period, the chance of an American being murdered by a foreign-born terrorist was 1 in 3,609,709 a year. The chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee was 1 in 3.64 billion a year. The annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist.

Of the 3,252,493 refugees admitted from 1975 to the end of 2015, 20 were terrorists, which amounted to 0.00062 percent of the total. In other words, one terrorist entered as a refugee for every 162,625 refugees who were not terrorists. Refugees were not very successful at killing Americans in terrorist attacks. Of the 20, only three were successful in their attacks, killing a total of three people and imposing a total human cost of $45 million, or $13.84 per refugee visa issued. The three refugee terrorists were Cubans who committed their attacks in the 1970s and were admitted before the Refugee Act of 1980 created the modern rigorous refugee screening procedures currently in place.”

Critics have gone further, to say that this sweeping freeze on entry and ban on processing refugees could be more damaging to national security in the long run, by playing into ISIS’ plans to recruit more members by creating more distrust of the United States and to continue funding itself through the extortion and terrorism of civilians forced to stagnate in these war torn areas.

The American acceptance and asylum of refugees fosters the growth of socially liberal Muslim populations and weaves stronger international support systems, diplomatic relations and pushback against radicalizing forces (remember, the largest group impacted by ISIS violence is majority Muslim civilian populations).

In an interview with the “Indy Star,” Marwan Batman, a Syrian refugee who settled in North Carolina, says, “I immigrated to the U.S. and left my family and home because of my freedom. […] I also wanted to ensure such freedom is protected, not only for my children but also for everyone else. I strongly believe in the U.S. Constitution and will fight to protect it, period! Everyone in my community felt the same way. I want to keep painting the image to all of my family and friends about the goodness of the American people. I wish other refugees would be able to come and experience the same things we have experienced … to find the same happiness we have found here.”

As for the impact on SCAD students, the largest threat at the moment is for students currently here on visas from one of these seven nations, who may not be able to go home for breaks to visit family, for fear of being blocked from re-entry. There have been mentions from the White House as well about altering H1-B visas, which could make it difficult for international students to get jobs here in the United States after graduating.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard Judge Raskin’s restraining order and other dissenter’s cases on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 6:00 p.m. EST, which will be the next turning point in determining the legality of the Executive Order and the scope of its execution. It is highly possible that the case will go to the Supreme Court following this hearing, depending on the outcome.

There will be a workshop on understanding the executive order this Friday, Feb. 17, at 3:30 p.m. at Norris Hall, hosted by the SCAD International Student Services Office for more information.