Washington colleges and universities are playing a key role in the state’s lawsuit against the Trump administration that seeks to overturn the executive order temporarily barring U.S. entry by people from seven nations and all refugees.
For decades, Washington’s public colleges and universities have rolled out the welcome mat to international students, researchers and professors, saying the global connections helped strengthen the colleges for all.
So when President Trump signed an executive order last month barring all refugees as well as citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S., college leaders here were among the first to argue that the action could have a chilling effect on everything from undergraduate enrollment to graduate research and scholarship.
In the lawsuit filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson last week, the University of Washington, Washington State University and the state’s community colleges all submitted declarations describing how they could be harmed by the order.
Now, two UW students also say they’re being directly impacted.
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On Tuesday the students became part of a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Washington arguing the order is unconstitutional and is causing them unnecessary hardships.
In an interview, one of the students — an Iranian pursuing his Ph.D. in aeronautic and astronautical engineering, as well as a master’s in applied mathematics — said the order would prevent him from traveling abroad for research.
The man is the co-inventor of, and holds a provisional patent on, a novel way of researching new battery materials. He believes his work could lead a to major breakthrough in energy storage material development, such as solar cells, and fuel cells for a variety of applications including aerospace.
The executive order would keep him from going to a conference in Germany on renewable-energy storage, another conference on hybrid and organic photovoltaics in Switzerland and a third on solar cells and optoelectronics in England.
He has been in the U.S. since 2012 and holds a student visa to study here. He collaborates with professors and researchers around the world and frequently travels outside the U.S., especially to China, for work with the Chinese Academy of Science.
The man is identified only as John Doe in the lawsuit, and is withholding his name out of fear of retaliation from the U.S. government or others.
If the executive order is upheld and he were to travel, he would be barred from re-entering the country, which would prevent him from finishing his doctoral degree. “All my entire career will be in danger,” he said.
The travel ban would also prohibit him from returning to Iran to visit his family in the case of a family emergency.
Jane Doe, another UW student from Iran who is part of the lawsuit, is working on a graduate degree in international public policy. She has canceled all of her upcoming interviews for summer internships outside the U.S. for fear she would not be able to return.
The students are joined in the lawsuit by the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, which is providing resettlement support to nearly two dozen refugee families, the documents state. According to the suit, the families were already approved for travel to the United States when the executive order was signed Jan. 27.
In all, the UW, WSU and the state’s community colleges estimate that more than 400 students from the affected countries are studying here.
They make up a small fraction of the nearly 29,000 international students who attended Washington colleges and universities in 2015. Most students and faculty who come here are from Asian countries.
But the ban may send a message to them, too.
“We are concerned that even if many students come from Pacific Rim countries, they will see our colleges as not a welcoming place,” said John Boesenberg, deputy executive director for business operations at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC).
Last week, as part of Washington’s lawsuit against the Trump administration, Boesenberg submitted a declaration describing the potential harm to the community colleges.
In an interview last week with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey Riedinger, vice provost for global affairs at the UW, called international researchers “an indispensable part of who we are.” Riedinger has declined further interviews because he may be called upon to testify in the case, a UW spokesman said.
He also told The Chronicle that it was an “important signal” that both of the state’s public research universities had submitted declarations.
Asif Chaudhry, vice president for international programs at WSU, told The Chronicle that the presidential order sends the wrong message. “It is not consistent with American values,” said Chaudhry, who was formerly the U.S. ambassador to Moldova. “It is not consistent with the message we try to give as diplomats.”
Chaudhry has also declined further interviews because he may be called to testify.
In one declaration, Chaudhry said WSU has about 136 undergraduate and graduate students from the seven countries, all of whom are in the U.S. under valid student visas. Chaudhry wrote that their presence “serves to build international understanding among all members of the community,” and also “enriches the educational experience of all WSU students.”