When President Trump announced in the winter that he would ban people from six mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States to protect national security, university leaders were some of the most outspoken opponents of the measure, warning it would hinder research and recruitment of the best talent in the world.
“If left in place, the order threatens both American higher education and the defining principles of our country,” Princeton University’s president and the University of Pennsylvania’s president wrote in a February letter that was signed by nearly 50 top university leaders.
On Monday, some university leaders welcomed a Supreme Court ruling that Trump also claimed as a victory.
The Supreme Court agreed to allow a limited version of the ban to take effect, carving out exceptions that appear to exempt university students, faculty and lecturers. In October, the court will consider the case and the president’s powers in immigration matters.
“While we are still reviewing the Court’s decision, the Court has rightly recognized that students, faculty, and lecturers from the designated countries have a bona fide relationship with an American entity and should not be barred from entering the United States,” Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the Association of American Universities, said in a statement Monday afternoon. “This should make clear to the world that the United States continues to welcome the most talented individuals from all countries to study, teach, and carry out research and scholarship at our universities.”
An official with a higher-education association who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about the ruling said that at first read, it appears “the court basically agrees with us.” It seems to very clearly protect the people the official was worried about — university students, faculty, lecturers — and would allow them to return to or remain on campus.
“We believe that’s the court’s intent,” said the official, who will watch to see how the ruling plays out in practice. “It’s up to the Department of Homeland Security and immigration authorities to live up to that intent.”
Princeton University officials said in a statement Monday afternoon, “We appreciate the Supreme Court leaving in place the injunctions against the travel ban for any foreign national who has ‘a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States’ and specifically illustrating that this includes foreign nationals who wish to enter the United States to visit a family member, students from the designated countries who have been admitted to American universities, individuals who have accepted an offer of employment, and lecturers invited to address an American audience.”
Daniel Day, a spokesman for the university, added that after the school’s initial response, officials now need to study the decision in detail and will continue to monitor developments as they occur.
The initial response from higher-education officials was not universal.
Wim Wiewel, the president of Portland State University, raised the broader issue of the long-term message being sent overseas.
“I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision today to allow a limited form of President Trump’s travel ban to be implemented until the court hears the case and makes a final ruling,” Wiewel said in a statement.
“Today’s court action has no impact on Portland State’s current international students from the six countries on the list or those who have been offered admissions. However, I’m particularly concerned that banning people from the United States because of their country of origin sends a chilling message to all international students that we are not a welcoming place. So there could be a ripple effect on international students wanting to study at PSU and American universities in general.”
Esther Brimmer, executive director and chief executive of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said Monday evening in a written statement that international educators are pleased to be able to tell students and scholars with connections to the United States that, while the litigation continues, they could not be barred from the country because of nationality or religion.
“Unfortunately, individuals from the affected countries with no ties to the United States will be subject to the ban on the grounds that a lack of connection to the United States somehow provides evidence of a national security threat. If that is the case, then we should be making every effort to create connections and ties through robust international exchange and travel, and we call on the administration to make clear in its guidance that prospective students and scholars should not be afraid to seek admission to the United States regardless of their current ties.
“For refugees, however, this requirement of a prior connection to the United States is a devastating and unfair limitation on the very reason that countries provide refuge.”
At the University of Hawaii, spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said that Hawaii is one of the most diverse places in the country and that the university is one of the most diverse universities in the country; they are defined by the variety of people and cultures living together in harmony. “The University of Hawai’i is pleased that our accepted students will not be affected by the travel ban and that they will be able to travel freely to both engage in their academic studies and to return to their home countries as necessary during the time they’re studying here,” he said.
“We’re all in a holding pattern right now,” he added. If the case is heard in October, “spring 2018 is when the actual decision will come out. We have a ways to go.”
The case takes on questions of national security and religious discrimination; Trump has argued that the ban is necessary to ensure the United States is protected from extremists from overseas who wish to enter the country and harm Americans.
Critics say his campaign rhetoric of the need for a “Muslim ban” indicates he is violating the country’s principle of religious freedom.
The ban on travelers from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — which had been blocked by lower courts — is meant to be a temporary measure while the government reviews its vetting procedures.
The court made clear that the ban cannot be enforced against “foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” including those who wish to visit or live with family members and students who have been admitted to a U.S. university.
For individuals, a close familial relationship is required. A foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member … clearly has such a relationship. As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading EO–2. The students from the designated countries who have been admitted to the University of Hawaii have such a relationship with an American entity. So too would a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience.
Three justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — objected to the partial stay, saying it would lead to a “flood of litigation” over what constitutes a “bona fide relationship” before the overall case is resolved.