On Saturday Feb. 1, students, faculty and staff received a message from President Biddy Martin regarding President Trump’s policy to expand the travel ban. The ban adds the nations of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania to the list of countries on which Trump has imposed travel blockades. The Trump administration’s choice to single out these specific countries may have wide repercussions for immigrants across the country. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, represents more than 14,000 approved green cards and 222,000 temporary visas alone. Writing this on Groundhog Day feels fitting: a Trump travel ban has become so repetitive, the news cycle has started to resemble Bill Murray’s day-on-repeat in the 1993 hit comedy. However, there is a slight difference in this iteration of travel regulations.
In contrast to Travel Ban 3.0 (the version that existed prior to these changes), nonimmigrants are excluded from the restrictions. As Martin wrote in bold-faced type, this means that citizens of these countries living in the United States “on a temporary basis for study and research” will not face obstructed entry. This provision softens the policy relative to its ancestors, Travel Bans 1.0 and 2.0. Amherst students from these countries will not be stopped from traveling to school from home. This distinction from previous travel bans is an intriguing deviation in Trump’s immigration policy.
So what does this nonimmigrant exception mean in the context of Trump’s foreign policy legacy? It may just seem like a footnote, but we might also speculate that exempting nonimmigrants from the restrictions bears some deeper meaning. One way to read the nonimmigrant exception to the travel ban is as something of a concession within Trump’s foreign policy stance.
Trump’s first travel ban, introduced in the first week of his presidency, shook many communities throughout the U.S. In particular, many college administrations spoke out about how this would adversely affect their students. For example, former Harvard University President Drew Faust commented that “nearly half of the deans of Harvard’s schools are immigrants … Benefiting from the talents and energy, the knowledge and ideas of people from nations around the globe is not just a vital interest of the university; it long has been, and it fully remains, a vital interest of our nation … ” It became clear from this backlash that what Trump expected to be received as an act of putting America first had instead endangered its educational values. Though he might not outrightly admit it, exempting nonimmigrants from the expanded travel obstacles could be seen as Trump’s nod to the disapproval from college administration, acknowledgement that the most stringent policy measures may not in fact be in America’s best interest.
To be sure, this analysis of the nonimmigrant exception should not minimize the extreme nature of this policy. Just because Trump is allowing temporary residence does not mean he is balancing his stance on immigration.
After all, the timing of this policy in an election-year cannot be ignored. There is certainly an element of political strategy at work here — Trump wants to reassure his voter base that he is still just as committed to an immigration crackdown as he was in 2016. Just because the nonimmigrant exception could represent a response to the reprisal from college institutions of Travel Ban 3.0 does not mean these new restrictions should in any way be seen as a fair compromise.
Let’s be clear: this travel ban will make the lives of international students at Amherst College more complicated and turbulent. It is important to remain cognizant that the underlying connotations of these policies have just as much of an impact as the tangible regulations themselves. There is no doubt that students from these very countries, including Amherst students, would be discouraged from pursuing careers within the United States as their options for permanent residency have now been devastated as a result of this backwards policy. The policies of the Trump administration — despite the thoughts of some — matter. They have the power to uplift communities or destroy them.
For instance, when Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf includes in his announcement that “while the U.S. is the world’s most generous and welcoming country, unfortunately, there are evil people who seek to travel to the United States with the intent of harming and killing Americans,” he paints an “us-against-them” portrait of the U.S.’s relationship with the countries that some Amherst students call home.
Language like Wolf’s makes it hard for students at this college to feel welcome in this country. Language like Wolf’s chips away at the very moral foundations of our country — a supposed nation of immigrants — and instead replace them with xenophobic, racist and unfounded fears. Language like Wolf’s has no place in our country nor our college, and it’s time that the college and the community assert its opposition to the irreparable damage that the Administration is causing to students, families, and immigrants across the world.
Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board (assenting: 13; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 1)