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How Trump's Immigration Ban Hinders Scientists From Pursuing Studies In US

5 February 2017, 12:00 pm EST By Alyssa Navarro Tech Times
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Protesters rally outside the JFK airport in New York to denounce President Donald Trump’s recent immigration ban. How will this sweeping executive order affect immigrant scientists, researchers, and students, particularly those from Muslim-majority countries?  ( Stephanie Keith / Stringer | Getty Images )

As President Donald Trump threads his way through his first 100 days in the Oval Office, he continues to reshape America — and the world in effect — in ways considered odious.

His first week in office is particularly eventful. On Jan. 20, Trump signed an executive order that skewers both the housing and healthcare programs of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. Five days later, he orders the building of a United States-Mexico border wall.

But that's not all.

On Jan. 27, the POTUS signed a devastating executive order that forbids refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for a certain period.

Refugees are not allowed in the country for 120 days, with Syrian refugees facing an indefinite ban. Immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries — Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Iran — cannot enter the U.S. for 90 days.

It doesn't matter if the person holds a green card — a permanent resident visa that allows them to work, study, or live in the country. If an immigrant from a Muslim-majority country leaves the U.S., they may not be allowed to return.

How The Immigration Ban Affects Scientists And Students

This executive order is a big blow not only to immigrants, but to America's healthcare, technology, and scientific research sectors as well.

In fact, about 18 percent of scientists who live in the U.S. are immigrants, according to a 2015 report from the National Science Foundation. About 15 percent of them hold temporary visas, while 22 percent are permanent residents.

To hear immigrant scientists' side of the story, international science journal Nature interviewed more than 20 researchers impacted by the immigration ban. Some of them requested to keep their identities undisclosed.

Ali Shourideh, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, expressed his shock and disbelief over the executive order.

"I've always been under the assumption this is a free country, that once you immigrated they won't try to kick you out or make life hard for you," said Shourideh, who is an Iranian citizen currently holding a green card.

Shourideh frequently travels to Iran to visit his mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer. If he leaves the U.S., he won't be welcomed anymore.

The same thing could happen to Kaveh Daneshvar, a molecular geneticist who is completing his postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Also an Iranian citizen, Daneshvar was thrilled to learn that he had been invited to talk at an upcoming molecular biology conference in Canada next month. However, if he leaves the U.S. to attend the meeting in Canada, he may be blocked from going back to Boston.

Indeed, the immigrant ban has thrown the lives of these scientists and students into disarray.

Italian microbial geneticist Luca Freschi who currently lives in Quebec had planned to move to Harvard Medical School in March with his Iranian wife Maryam. Unfortunately, the immigration ban has disrupted the couple's plans as Maryam will not be able to come with Luca.

Another couple is experiencing the same dilemma. Both are scientists who got teaching posts at a U.S. university, but as one of them is Iranian, the couple is currently stuck in France.

Furthermore, the immigration ban has disrupted international collaborations between researchers. Glaciology student Samira Samimi, an Iranian studying in Canada, was supposed to visit Greenland as part of NASA's expedition to study snow melt.

Unfortunately, Samimi won't be able to cross the border to meet her colleagues in New York. If she does purchase another ticket to Greenland, she might not be permitted to fly on the cargo plane that takes the U.S. team to remote sites. This could slow her progress towards a PhD.

"None of this is right," said glaciologist Mike MacFerrin, who organized the expedition that Samimi is supposed to take part in. "There is no way this helps us or our science."

Battle For Rights

On Jan. 28, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to overturn the executive order, in behalf of two people with green cards who were detained at airports. The federal court ruled that the detainees could not be deported by the government.

However, this ruling does not impact those who were not in transit when the immigration ban took effect.

On the other hand, more than 12,000 scientists, including 40 Nobel prize awardees and six Fields medalists, signed a petition that denounced Trump's immigration ban.

"The unethical and discriminatory treatment of law-abiding, hard-working, and well-integrated immigrants fundamentally contravenes the founding principles of the United States," the petition said.

But all this means very little for immigrant scientists and students, particularly for an engineering student in Detroit. The Iranian student, who is studying at Wayne State University, bought a house in the U.S., and he and his wife had been planning to have their parents visit them from Iran.

Their plans are now on hold as they contemplate whether to move to Australia and start anew there.

"If you leave, you can get your life back, your parents back, your family back — but you will lose anything you did here," the student said. "We worked hard for this."

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