In his first week, President Donald Trump has already followed through on a number of promises he made to his supporters during the election cycle. By Wednesday, which Trump called a “big day” for national security on his personal Twitter account, he signed an executive order to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and introduced a “temporary ban” on refugees from Syria and other Muslim countries.
Although the Trump administration has not disclosed details of how it will finance the wall, the construction will reportedly begin in months. The project could cost up to tens of billions of dollars. Trump has insisted Mexico will pay for wall; Mexico has said it will not. Trump was scheduled to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in the coming days, though Peña is considering canceling his visit.
This order for the wall comes along with a Trump administration crackdown on the estimated 11 million immigrants who came to the United States illegally and a reduction in the number of refugees resettled in America.
START OF ‘MUSLIM BAN’
Trump’s second major move of the day was to announce a temporary ban on refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Syria.
Sabrina Cheikali, a junior majoring in business law and marketing whose parents immigrated from Syria in the 1980s, said the global refugee crisis was a tragedy but also a “frustrating” conundrum.
“Do we continue to accept outside people in although our resources continue to be stretched? Whether it’s job opportunities, welfare benefits, or even housing, it’s obvious that our resources are limited and continuing to allow people in is difficult and maybe harmful to do in the long run,” Cheikali said. “It’s a hard line to draw, yes, but I think immigrants have had a pivotal role in the growth of the U.S.”
Fifteen percent of the university’s student body is made up of international students, including 338 students from the Middle East. Muslim students made up 4 percent of the university’s student body in fall 2016, according to the UM 2016-2017 Factbook.
Aaisha Sanaullah, a junior majoring in neuroscience and philosophy, is the public relations officer for Muslim Students of UM (MSUM), an organization with almost 100 members.
“While our day to day lives may not have dramatically changed, it’s harrowing to witness these policies being put in place,” Sanaullah said in a statement. “Sometimes it blows my mind that the reality of the situation is so grim that I’m explaining to my eleven-year-old sister that she has rights regardless of what religion she practices. It’s very easy to let that lead to a low point, but the increasing need for unity and the outpour of solidarity from people equally appalled by Trump’s administration allows us to maintain hope.”
Sanaullah said that although anti-Muslim rhetoric previously existed, the expression of Islamaphobia has been “normalized” by the particularly vitriolic 2016 election cycle. Making these beliefs into policies, Sanaullah said, will only add to the “other-ing” of Muslims in the United States.
“It reinforces the misconception that these people are unsafe, terrorists, and people to be met with scrutiny and caution. In reality, these people are literally just that — people, a lot of whom are people in need of a safe home,” Sanaullah said.
UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR DREAMERS
In a press conference on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration was focusing on “people who have done harm to our country,” giving some hope for those immigrants in the country under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 executive action by the Obama administration that allowed undocumented children to stay in the United States.
There are an estimated 2.1 million undocumented students from this generation, and they refer to themselves as Dreamers.
This cohort inspired the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which was introduced in Congress in 2001 but never passed. Little by little, however, states began offering undocumented Dreamers in-state tuition and financial aid. Twenty-one states, including Florida, now offer in-state tuition to Dreamers.
However, this may soon change with the installation of Senator Jeff Sessions as Trump’s pick for attorney general. Sessions is considered one of the top opponents to the states offering in-state tuition to Dreamers, and his position on the matter caused a number of professors across the nation to sign a petition against Trump’s choice.
Sixteen UM Law professors signed the petition: Anthony V. Alfieri, Sergio J. Campos, Donna Coker, Caroline Mala Corbin, Zanita E. Fenton, Patrick Gudridge, Frances R. Hill, Osamudia R. James, Catherine Millas Kaiman, Tamara Rice Lave, Peter D. Lederer, Bernard Perlmutter, Rebecca Sharpless, Irwin Stotzky, Frank Valdes and Teresa J. Verges.
UNIVERSITY RELUCTANT TO TAKE STAND
UM President Julio Frenk was also one of more than 400 university presidents to sign a statement in support of DACA, but the university has not issued an official statement declaring itself a “sanctuary campus,” despite many professors urging the university to take a stance and offer protection to undocumented students.
Sanctuary campuses take measures and institute policies to protect students. Among these measures may be providing legal advice on immigration-related questions, something UM already does free of charge through the School of Law’s Immigration Clinic. However, a full sanctuary campus would not allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement on campus without warrants and would forbid sharing students’ immigration status with immigration officials.
“Administration has been dragging its feet on this,” said Mario Alejandro Ariza, a 29-year-old freelance writer and student in a UM master’s program for poetry.
Ariza, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic to Miami when he was six years old, said he began questioning the uncertain future for Dreamers during the election cycle. When he tried pitching articles about the issue to national publications, Ariza said editors told him Trump was “not going to win,” making it next-to-irrelevant.
When Ariza was reporting a story for local publication the New Tropic, he found out from a UM professor that there were more students at risk than he had thought.
“It wasn’t until I did the article that I found out there are 25 to 30 DACA recipients at UM,” Ariza said.
Top universities such as Harvard, Yale and Brown have all been petitioned to declare themselves sanctuaries for undocumented students, and there have been walkouts across the country in support of Dreamers.
“I find it lacking,” Ariza said of the university’s response, considering UM “was pretty much put on the map by the Cuban exile community.”
Yet the ability of a university to be a “sanctuary” is still uncertain, especially when the possibility of stripping funding from sanctuary cities has been brought to the table.
Tricky legality, mixed with the need for universities to remain mostly neutral in political matters, has made it rare for an institution to step forward in support of undocumented students.
“The state of uncertainty becomes acute,” Ariza said.
One solution, Ariza said, is to put in place the structures of activism that would allow the student body to speak out against these policies that could impact fellow classmates. That way, professors who are pushing hard for action but also wary of putting their jobs on the line would not be placed in as compromising of a position.