May 26, 2017

Travel Ban Puts International Enrollment at Risk

Trump tweet. Courtesy of Twitter

By Madeline Linnell ‘17

Managing Editor

President Donald Trump’s executive order refusing citizens from Muslim-majority countries and refugees to enter the U.S. on Jan. 27 could affect Gordon’s international students.

The executive order, popularly monikered “the travel ban,” halted all Iranian, Somali, Iraqi, Sudanites, Libyans, Yemeni, Syrians, and refugees, regardless of their nationality, from entering the country. Seattle federal judge order on Feb. 3, resuming previous immigration and customs’ procedures. The White House Administration requested for the suspension to be lifted; three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 9th Circuit rejected the request. President Trump responded to the blocking with a Tweet: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

Feb. 16, President Trump said he would create another executive order involving immigration policy instead of continuing litigation of the Jan. 27 executive order. Representing President Trump, the Department of Justice wrote in a brief to the 9th Circuit, “In so doing, the President will clear the way for immediately protecting the country rather than pursuing further, potentially time-consuming litigation.”

The new travel ban will be released this week.

The unravelling events implicate Gordon College’s international student enrollment. According to the College’s Director of International Initiatives and Operations Caroline Dixon, there are no current refugee students or students from the seven specified countries; however, that does not mean there will not be applicants who fit the executive order’s descriptions in the future. An approved travel ban could bar potential international prospective students from applying to the College.

Applying for an international student visa, the F-1 Visa, is already an arduous process. If a student were to be accepted by Gordon College, that student would need to pay a non-refundable $200 SEVIS fee to the U.S. government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program. The student would then schedule a visa interview with a local U.S. embassy or consulate, where the student would present documents such as Gordon College letters (acceptance letter, for example), SEVIS Fee Receipt, Form I-20, financial documents, and passport.

Melissa Walsh of the Global Education Office conducted many of these visa-applicant interviews during her previous State Department career. “Students were always the best people to interview,” Walsh said, because she would learn about what their interests were and what they hoped to study.

As an interviewer, one of Walsh’s primary concerns was to review the applicants’ provided financial documents that show the student could afford the institution. Such financial documents consist of bank statements and sponsor letters–documents that prove the student can afford the first year of Gordon College. For the 2016-17 academic year, total expenses amounted to $51,040. If the student fails to verify she or he has the funds available to pay all expenses, the student will most likely be denied a visa.

Gordon College has a successful rate of F-1 visa approvals, says Caroline Dixon. She continues, “We take great pains to explain and verify all of the requirements and paperwork. And if any trouble arises, it is not uncommon for us to send a letter from the President D. Michael Lindsay to the embassy.”

The College’s efforts appear fruitful. In Fall 2010, there were 106 international undergraduates. That number has doubled. Fall 2016 rendered a total of 217 international undergraduates. According to Dixon, the College’s competitors sometimes turn to her and her colleagues for advice on visa matters due to Gordon College’s success rate.

The continuation of this trend is motivated by the College aspiration to be a “global hub for Christian education,” as articulated in the 20/20 Project: A Vision for Gordon’s Future, which can be found on the College website. One objective reads, “Enrich the student body through 20% enrollment of international students.” International students make 14% of the current student body. A 6% increase in the next three years would then meet the 20/20 goal. With an approved travel bans against refugees and Muslim-majority countries, however, this goal may be even more difficult to reach–a goal already challenged by the costly U.S. F-1 Visa application system set in place.

Though Gordon College does not formulate an institutional response to the executive order, public figures and organizations across the nation have voiced their concerns. These concerns include the travel ban’s lack of evidence to support its claims that refugees and vetted visa holders from Muslim-majority countries are posing a threat to U.S. citizens’ safety. 48 university or college presidents signed and sent a letter to President Trump, asking him to “rescind or rectify the recent executive order.” The letter, as published on the Princeton website, continues, “The order specifically prevents talented, law-abiding students and scholars from the affected regions from reaching our campuses. American higher education has benefited tremendously from this country’s long history of embracing immigrants from around the world.”

The Christian organization World Relief also sent President Trump a letter with over 6,000 Christian leaders’ signatures. The letter reads, “As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering. We cannot abandon this call now. We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist, as they have for decades. For the persecuted and suffering, every day matters; every delay is a crushing blow to hope.”

Moderated by Dean of Student Life Nicholas Rowe, a Gordon College faculty panel featuring Biblical Studies’ Professor Daniel Darko, Political Science and International Affairs Professor Ruth Melkonian-Hoover, and Philosophy Professor Mark Gedney echoed World Relief’s message of compassion in an event called “For You Yourselves were Foreigners in Egypt.”

Instead of eschewing deep thoughtfulness and regurgitating partisan-fueled rhetoric, the faculty panel reminded the audience of the Christian call to extend hospitality to the foreigner, stranger, other. As an example, Professor Gedney cited Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV): “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Professor Daniel Darko said that members of Gordon College “must consider our role seriously” when addressing attitudes towards immigration, because of the stereotypes others have of communities like the College’s–dominantly white evangelicals. In other words, how “Gordonites” act in response to the political melee ought to reflect, first and foremost, basic Christian principles, like Jesus’ command “to love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Egyptian student Philip Mansour ‘17 returned this spring semester from Jordan, where he attended Best Semester’s Middle Eastern Program. Responding to the Jan. 27 executive order, Mansour said, “I am deeply hurt and angered by Trump’s executive order like millions of others. It breaks my heart that the president of the United States would implement blatant racist and discriminatory policies against my Arab brothers and sisters.”

“Immigrants  are thoroughly vetted before they are accepted into the US. This is a process that my family had to go through in order to immigrate to the US. Millions of Arab families faced, face, or will continue to face life or death situations. It’s a difficult reality for us to accept here, but it’s not a complicated one. We cannot be silent or indifferent when real people’s real lives are at stake,” said Mansour.

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