Tufts Fights Immigration Restrictions

University leaders reaffirm commitment to the value of a global community and join legal challenge of executive order

Anthony Monaco and David Harris at forum

As the status of President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting entry to the U.S. by individuals from seven predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern and African countries remains in flux, Tufts University continues to reaffirm its commitment to students and faculty from those areas and has joined legal efforts to roll back the restrictions.

Supporting Tufts’ international community is an essential aspect of the university’s longstanding belief in the importance of developing a global perspective, President Anthony P. Monaco told students, faculty and staff at two discussion forums on Friday, Feb. 3. “And quite simply, it’s the right thing to do,” he added.

Monaco and Provost David Harris conducted the forums on the Medford/Somerville and Boston campuses, with a live stream to the Grafton campus, to field questions, particularly from those who are visa holders or permanent residents of the affected countries, and to provide updates on the rapidly changing situation.

As the forums were underway, a federal judge in Boston was deciding whether to extend the temporary restraining order that was allowing those targeted by the executive order to enter through Boston’s Logan Airport. The status of visiting scholar in engineering Mehdi Harandi, who is from Iran and had been unable to return to the U.S., remained uncertain. Later Friday night, he was able to enter the U.S. through Logan Airport, where he was greeted by members of the Tufts community.

Monaco also announced at the forums that Tufts had joined a “friend of the court” amicus brief filed earlier in the day in support of a lawsuit by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey challenging the constitutionality of the executive order. Tufts joined seven other Massachusetts universities in filing the amicus brief.

In addition, Monaco signed onto a letter from the presidents of 47 other American colleges and universities urging Trump to rectify or rescind the executive order. “If left in place, the order threatens both American higher education and the defining principles of our country,” the letter stated.

In the tumultuous afternoon and evening that followed the Friday discussion forums at Tufts, the federal judge in Boston refused to extend the temporary restraining order that covered arrivals at Logan. Hours later, a federal judge in Seattle handed down a ruling that temporarily halted enforcement of the travel ban nationwide, and on Sunday, a federal appeals court denied the Trump administration’s request to resume it.

“We take great pride in the global nature of our community and have always embraced and valued our international members,” Monaco wrote in a letter to the Tufts community after the executive order was issued on Jan. 27. “Our community and the world are better places because of what we learn and create together. Let me assure you that will not change. We remain committed to protecting the international members of our Tufts community, regardless of national origin, religion or citizenship status. Treating all members of our community with respect is a fundamental principle of our university. Now more than ever we must adhere to that core value.” An excerpt from his letter was included in the amicus brief.

The executive order restricted people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. It temporarily suspended visas from citizens of those countries and temporarily suspended admission of refugees into the U.S., with an indefinite suspension for refugees from Syria. The order covered all types of visas, including professional work visas, student visas and tourist visas. The status of those holding permanent resident “green cards” was being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Some 73 members of the Tufts community are either visa-holders or permanent residents from the specified countries, and at least three of them were overseas when the travel ban went into effect. Two were able to return during the week, according to Diana Chigas, senior international officer and associate provost, including a student who was greeted at the airport and escorted to a cab by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.

All told, Tufts has more than 1,600 international students and 460 international faculty and scholars who are natives of 69 countries. Through Tufts study-abroad programs and other research enterprises, there are at present students and faculty working on projects in 140 countries.

Diversity and inclusion remain among Tufts’ core values, Harris assured the roomful of students, faculty and staff who gathered in Ballou Hall on the Medford/Somerville campus for the Feb. 3 forum. “We will continue to admit students from these seven countries” for the upcoming academic year, he said. Monaco repeated the university’s commitment not to provide information on any student’s immigration status to the government, unless requested by a subpoena or warrant.

The focus of the Friday forums was on those expecting to be affected directly by the executive order. In addition to the president, the provost and Chigas, Dana Fleming, assistant university counsel, and Prasant Desai of the Boston immigration law firm Iandoli, Desai & Cronin were on hand to answer questions.

Many students who raised questions were from Iran. They said they were concerned about future travel for summer work and study, and ultimately, whether they would be able to remain in the U.S. after finishing their degrees. They wondered what the changing immigration landscape could mean for their careers and future employment opportunities. 

Many of them prefaced their questions by explaining why they had chosen to study in the U.S., even when they had had offers from institutions in Europe or Canada. “Like a lot of Iranians who are privileged to have a visa to study in the U.S., I was also accepted at a [European] university,” one student said. “I chose to come to Tufts because of what the U.S. stands for.”

Helene Ragovin can be reached at helene.ragovin@tufts.edu.

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