An open forum, held on Monday, Feb. 6, addressed the travel ban issued by President Donald Trump and immigration.
The forum was attended by eleven audience members. A panel of four FSU professors answered questions regarding the heightened border security and immigration issues.
The panel consisted of English professor Alexander Hartwiger, history professor Stefan Papaioannou, communications professor Leslie Starobin and sociology professor Kaan Agartan.
The idea for this “open dialogue” was brought to the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) by senior Cindy Nelson and junior Jace Williams, said Chon’tel Washington, director of the CIE.
Nelson said she initially planned the immigration forum as a rally, but wanted to open the discussion to students with different opinions.
The executive order, titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into The United States,” put a strict travel ban on seven middle eastern countries – Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen, according to Nelson.
Jeanne Haley, an FSU counselor, asked the panel about the latest developments regarding the travel ban.
Hartwiger said a Seattle judge has temporarily blocked the ban, and thus far, it has not been overturned.
He said one of the more interesting ways to look at the executive order is through the “legal framework. If we think about this in terms of the structure of our government, where the checks and balances occur … in forms of pushback … it was relatively quick.”
He added, “The executive order was issued on Friday, and very quickly, the ACLU in Boston and other cities took action to work with those who were stranded in airports.”
Nelson said, “Part of the issue is people were detained. They were not citizens, but they are lawful residents, so that has been struck down. … They’re allowed to come into the country. That clears up some of the confusion about what the ban actually means, because we’re not giving visas to people from these restricted countries.”
One student said her friend married in Syria two years ago and planned to move to the United States with her husband. “This happened and they couldn’t. But yesterday, they bought tickets to come tomorrow. … So they’re trying to race the clock to come here.”
Agartan said some people attempting to enter the country were rejected and had their visas stamped, which now means they must reapply.
“People who don’t have any stamps, they can still use those visas. … If they were unlucky enough to try and come to the United States and got their visa stamped, they’ll have to try again,” he said.
He added there are certain airlines that won’t accept travelers from the seven countries because of the “ambiguity.”
Williams asked the panel, “Is it true that people [trying to enter the country] are being asked their opinions of Trump and having their social media searched?”
One forum attendee said she heard some travelers’ social media had been searched during their initial screening upon entering the United States.
She added, “I’ve been hearing anecdotally online that people from other countries are being much more heavily scrutinized when they go to get their visa. … I think that is even more troubling because that expands to everybody, and it isn’t just those countries from the initial ban.”
Papaioannou said during a time with a “radical change” in government policy, people are often left confused due to the vague nature of it.
Hartwiger added, “One of the major criticisms has been about the rollout. The lack of communication in terms of the details and specifics of the policy and the policy not being vetted by departments that have a stake in the implementation – like the Director of Homeland Security. … I think that’s created a lot of anxiety.
“That becomes very problematic when it’s on a case-by-case basis. It’s not working evenly. It’s not working structurally. It’s a bit of a gray area,” he added.
Nelson said the executive order allows for religious minorities to enter the country as refugees, and the order does not ask them “questions about their allegiance to Trump but if they are from a religious minority within these countries. Mainly, this would be Christians in these restricted nations. There is this idea that officials will be testing the religiosity of those who claim to be Christians.”
However, “The Quran and the Bible are very similar,” she said.
An attendee asked if religious minorities would include Shiite Muslims in a predominantly Sunni country.
English professor Lisa Eck said, “It doesn’t seem like the intent, but that brings out the irony in this ban, because to be a Sunni in Iran is to be a religious minority.”
Hartwiger said the executive order has language that is “couched in emotion. It elicits fear and anxiety.”
He added, “It seems like, as a result, having a nationwide conversation is increasingly difficult. Because the two bases of the conversation are coming at two different issues. It becomes a non-starter if somebody is saying, ‘This is about safety and security,’ and somebody else is saying ‘This is about discrimination,’ which doesn’t allow for a lot of middle ground.”
One student said her friends share the same opinion as her, but she has trouble talking to her parents because they are “very conservative.
“I was talking to them about this and saying, ‘This is immoral. You can’t do this to people,’ and they kept saying, ‘We don’t want 9/11 to happen again.’ I didn’t know how to help them understand … that there’s so much terrorism going on inside the country, like school shootings, and a very small percentage of those were non-white or non-Christian.”
Another student said she comes from a “pretty conservative part of Massachusetts,” but she had the support of her family.
She added, “There’s five churches in my hometown. To me, the good Christian thing to do would be to take everyone in that we can and help them. I’m under the impression that after a lot of immigrants come in there’s an economic boom.”
Papaioannou said, “I don’t want to make general statements about refugees. In my study of refugee populations, on a whole, they tend to be people who won’t want to be involved in politics. … They’re often fleeing a deadly situation. … They’re leaving, usually, because they have no other choice.”
He added, “They do add to the economy of the host country. They’re often people who want to be safe.”
The forum also addressed the media coverage of the travel ban. Eck said it has developed in two forms. “One is stories of real refugees that create empathy and makes you take place of the refugee and the other category is all these stories of middle class and affluent people who are affected too. People who were doing their Ph.D. research, people whose parents can’t come to their gradation.”
As the forum ended, attendees addressed how to get students involved in the discussion who may not share the same opinion.
Eck suggested taking a counter opinion and flush it out by doing thorough research.
Williams said they hope to be able to engage the Republicans club at Framingham State in further discussions as well.
Nelson said, “I’m happy with the turnout and discussion that was had but I wish more opinions were expressed. This is a great step in the right direction.”