- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - University of Oregon officials tried to clarify for their Muslim international students just what President Trump’s executive orders on visas mean to them - even as the meaning grew cloudier.

Late in the day, acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend Trump’s executive orders because she’s not sure they’re legal. She was subsequently fired.

“We’re all carefully watching what’s coming from D.C. and we’re trying to interpret it,” UO Vice Provost for International Affairs Dennis Galvan said. “But we’re at a moment when there’s a lot of change coming fast.”

The orders Trump issued Friday blocked refugee entry into the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and stopped residents from seven select Muslim-majority countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - from entry for 90 days.

The UO enrolls 39 students from those nations among its 3,200 international students. Oregon State University has 165 students from the targeted countries, of 3,500 total international students.

As many as 17,000 students from the seven named countries study in the United States, according to the Institute of International Education.

But citizens of other Muslim-majority nations such as Turkey, Jordan or Tunisia who are temporarily studying, teaching or researching in the United States - and even Muslim-Americans who live her permanently - say they are shaken by the federal orders.

During a forum Monday, the UO tried to answer student questions from about 350 students and faculty about the ever-shifting federal policy.

“I’m from one of these seven countries, is it safe for me to travel outside the U.S.?” Galvin said. “We can be pretty certain that the answer to that is ‘no.’?”

Federal customs agents are unlikely to allow students with visas who leave to return to the United States to resume their studies.

But if a student in the United States is from a Muslim-majority county that’s not on the list of seven, is it safe for them to travel abroad?

“On Jan. 30 at (2:34 p.m.) Pacific time, it seems like it doesn’t apply to them, but, no, we can’t be sure that this set of immigration rulings will not be extended,” Galvin said.

He even said that faculty or students with green cards - which confer permanent resident status in the United States, typically due to marriage or some other family connection - may want to avoid traveling outside the country for now.

Some green card holders were detained at international airports over the weekend when they tried to return to the United States, according to news reports.

“If somebody has a sick family member (in a foreign country), they may have to weigh being with the loved one with the uncertainty of getting back in (to the United States),” Galvin said.

Closely tracked

Students and scholars here on non-immigrant visas in the United States are closely tracked by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security database called Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS.

Universities and colleges that enroll international students must submit quarterly reports with the students’ enrollment status, whether the students withdraw or are suspended, drop from full course loads, take off-campus jobs, change majors, delay completion dates, transfer colleges or graduate.

Faculty who are concerned about their international students and colleagues are calling the international office for clarity on the federal policy changes.

Abe Schafermeyer, director of UO International Student and Scholar Services, said his email inbox has filled over the past 72 hours by anxious students.

“Their parents cannot attend their graduation ceremonies. They cannot go to a funeral of a family member back home. This is real.”

The long-standing non-immigrant visa system “has worked and kept us safe and brought in excellent colleagues, scholars, students and visitors for generations,” said Michael Dreiling, president of United Academics and a UO sociology professor. “Everything is happening so quickly. Our friends and colleagues and family are impacted by this executive order.”

Petition effort

Dreiling and 32 other UO faculty members - as well as 13 OSU faculty members - joined 7,000 faculty members nationally on a petition opposing the Trump executive orders on visas and refugees.

The list included 40 Nobel prize laureates and 226 members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Arts.

“The unethical and discriminatory treatment of law-abiding, hard-working, and well-integrated immigrants fundamentally contravenes the founding principles of the United States,” the petition says.

Drew Williams, president of the UO Muslim Student Association, said the executive orders are “very serious” for many UO students.

Haytham Abu Adel, a student member of the group, left his family in Yemen to study in Eugene.

“He’s really not able to go home,” Williams said. “And if he does go home, he can’t come back - but he can’t go home because Yemen is a war zone. The city he’s from is being bombed by Saudi Arabia right now. There’s nowhere he can go.”

But the changes coming out of Washington are also troubling to Muslim-Americans, such as Williams. “We all heard the rhetoric on the campaign trail, but to see it in action is hard hitting and very discomforting,” he said.

The hastily organized rally in support of immigrants at the U.S. District Courthouse on Sunday - where 1,000 Eugene residents waved signs and pledged their support - meant a lot to international students, Williams said.

“It does help when you see it’s not like the whole country hates you. It’s not a monolithic we-want-you-out kind of thing. It makes you feel more comfortable and welcome,” he said.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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