Universities in New York Grapple with Trump's Immigration Order

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Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and CUNY faculty and students spoke out against President Trump's executive order on immigration.

President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning entry to the United States to people from seven Muslim-majority countries was met with a forceful response from the world of higher education.

"We join with many peers in decrying this action as discriminatory, damaging to America’s leadership in higher education, and contrary to our nation’s core values and founding principles," said Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, in a message to the Columbia community.

James Milliken, chancellor of the City University of New York, expressed similar sentiments in a statement over the weekend. He said the order had so far caused hardship and confusion for many. The order, he said, directly affected approximately 120 CUNY students.

"While I understand it is the responsibility of the administration to keep our country safe, I believe that this executive order is inconsistent with the values of openness and inclusiveness that have made CUNY—and our country—great," said Milliken.

The Association of American Universities called for an end to the ban "as soon as possible," and said it threatened scholarship and an exchange of ideas.

"It is vital to our economy and the national interest that we continue to attract the best students, scientists, engineers and scholars," the association said in a statement.

Meanwhile, colleges and universities scrambled to put together guidance for students who may be directly affected — nationwide, some 17,000 international students come from the seven countries listed on Trump's executive order, according to Bollinger. 

Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York system, and Board Chairman H. Carl McCall, issued a joint statement saying that the travel ban directly affected 320 students. They, like leaders from many other universities, recommended suspending travel outside the U.S. for those students from the seven countries. 

Universities also stepped up to provide students with legal help. Milliken said CUNY would offer legal services to affected students, faculty and staff through its Citizenship Now program. A spokesman for New York University, John Beckman, said the university has arranged special information sessions for affected students with law school faculty who specialize in immigration along with school officials from N.Y.U.'s global programs.

Jonathan Becker, the vice president for academic affairs at Bard College, said both the logistical implications of the travel order and the principle of it raised "tremendous disquiet and uncertainty." He invoked the college's history, saying Bard took in refugees during World War II when the Soviet Union occupied Hungary. Now, the college was committed to enrolling Syrian refugees, he said.

"We have one who just graduated, we have two more coming in the fall and we are committed to education of people everywhere," said Becker. "We are very concerned about the impact of this order on people who deserve an education and our help."

With reporting from Layla Quran