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Renewed Travel Ban Jumpstarts Fears Among International College Students

Darshini Parthasarathy is a student at Miami University.
Darshini Parthasarathy

The United States Supreme Court recently allowed the Trump administration’s travel ban to take effect while lawsuits challenging it continue to make their way through the courts. The ban restricts entry into the U.S. by travelers from eight mostly Muslim-majority countries: Somalia, Syria, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.

The restrictions have sparked controversy since a previous version of the policy was announced earlier this year. The ban is also fueling uncertainty among the hundreds of international students on college and university campuses across the Miami Valley.

At Miami University, Darshini Parthasarathy fears for her own status on campus. Darshini -- who goes by Darsh -- is a junior studying Political Science and Psychology. She was born and raised in the United Arab Emirates.

The country borders Saudi Arabia and is not far from Yemen, Iran and other countries included in the travel ban.

Darsh’s parents are originally from India. She’s Hindu, not Muslim. And her country is not included in the ban. But, sitting on a couch at the university’s office of diversity affairs, she says she’s still worried about the ban, because the UAE is overwhelmingly Muslim.

“Not every other country is populated with Muslims, right? And that’s what is being targeted right now, even though they [the government] wouldn’t outright say it, and that is scary,” she says. "After I heard his legislation might get passed I’ve wondered, what if UAE becomes one of the countries, do my parents need to move so I can continue to go here?"

Critics of the travel ban say it unjustly targets Muslims.

The Trump administration has maintained the ban does not specifically target Muslims, and that the new, tailored restrictions are needed to tighten immigration vetting procedures.

Darsh is one of three students from the United Arab Emirates attending Miami University, 2015 demographic data show.

Overall, nearly 100 students from the affected countries attend school at Miami, Wright State University and the University of Dayton, and despite the ban, officials from the three universities say they are continuing to process student visas, known as I-20s, and admissions applications for prospective students.

Demonstrators at a 2010 protest in Washington D.C. demanding immigration reform. Several efforts since have failed in Congress.
Credit Nevele Otseog / Flickr/Creative Commons
Flickr/Creative Commons
Demonstrators at a 2010 protest in Washington D.C. demanding immigration reform. Several efforts since have failed in Congress.

Under the ban, students from the affected countries with valid travel documents who are already in the U.S. will be allowed to stay, officials say. But future international students may be subject to enhanced vetting.

Michelle Streeter-Ferrari, director of Wright State University’s Center for International Education and her team have been working individually with students to ensure they understand how the current travel ban affects them.

“Students from the impacted countries can still apply for a student visa to come to the U.S. so as a recruiting method for students, we wanted to make it clear that you could still come study at Wright State and get a visa,” she says. 

University of Dayton Director of International Student and Scholar Services Tim Kao has also been fielding questions and concerns from the school’s close-knit international study body.

“We’ve heard a lot from students, they’re justifiably very concerned about what this means for them and their families, both here and when they want to come visit. It’s absolutely a barrier and a nuisance, and something that concerns them," he says. "It saddens us to see their frustration.”

Miami University's Parthasarathy says the travel ban has made many Middle Eastern students on campus wonder: do they belong in America -- are they still welcome here?

“Why would a child want to grow up in a community knowing they’re not accepted just because of who they believe in or what they believe in or what their parents have taught them and what they see in the media?”

A number of legal challenges to the travel ban continue to make their way through the court system. The cases are expected to be heard in the coming weeks.