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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Harvey Wilhelm
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Immigration ban sparks response by students and administration



Justin Leuba ’18 called their Iowa representatives at the Wednesday night call-in. Photo by Garrett Wang

Since the inauguration, President Donald Trump has signed 18 executive orders. One of these, signed on Friday, Jan. 27 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” restricts travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, prevents refugees from entering the country for 120 days and prohibits Syrian refugees from entering the country indefinitely.

In response, the Grinnell community mobilized to support its international students with a slew of events that occurred this past week. On Monday, the College held a Candlelight Vigil and Art in Response event. On Tuesday, in Main Hall Dining Quad, there was a letter-writing campaign and direct action strategy workshop. On Wednesday, the Rosenfield Program sponsored a teach-in in ARH 302 and Campus Democrats organized a call-in event at Bob’s Underground Cafe.

The CRSSJ was one campus organization planning events for the week, in addition to the Student Government Association (SGA), the Office of Intercultural Affairs, and the International Student Organization (ISO). Deanna Shorb, Dean of Religious Life, hoped that the events, as well as the open arms of the CRSSJ and the College itself, would lend a level of support to the affected students.

“We would like for those students to feel supported in every way possible,” Shorb said. “There’s only so much that anybody can do … we know that a lot of people would really just like to probably continue with life as it was and is … but we feel like if we don’t take the time to say, we understand that life has changed for you, to some degree, and if there’s anything within our power to do to give a grand welcome and let you know that we’re here every day to support you, we want to do that. So CRSSJ is partnering with our colleagues at Intercultural Affairs and [ISO] to try to find how best to support all students who might be having a hard time with a variety of executive orders, but specifically the immigration ban.”

Shorb wrote to the Muslim members of the Grinnell College community to lend her support and to offer help in any way that she and the CRSSJ could. “Please know that this is a sanctuary, that I do condemn this decision that has been made, that I think it in no way reflects what some people may be suggesting,” she said, describing what she had written in the letter. “It says that the very principles I think that the representatives and the current leader in Washington and his party promote to put forward, which would be Christian, mostly, that I know no Christian principles that reflect this lack of a welcome. I find it to be xenophobic and Islamophobic.”

Students, faculty and activists on campus have lent their support as well, through vigils and different community actions.

At the day-long letter writing campaign in Main Quad on Tuesday, students wrote to their Iowa and state representatives. Students were encouraged to write their thoughts, and were given the addresses of the senators from all 50 states. 

New York native Louise Carhart ’17 wrote to Senator Chuck Schumer, condemning what she sees as hypocrisy on his part with his involvement in the new Trump administration.

“[Schumer] has been approving Trump’s cabinet picks, but then comes out after he passes this executive order being like, this is un-American, this is terrible … [saying] I’m going to do whatever I can to fight this injustice,” Carhart said. “But then he’s been voting for all of Trump’s cabinet picks, so I had to tell him that that was wrong.”

At the call-in event, students were given the names and numbers of Iowa state and federal representatives and a list of different issues concerning both levels of government. They then called and left messages with their offices.

Justin Leuba ’18 first proposed the idea to Campus Democrats leader Austin Wadle ’18.  “Justin reached out to me … wanting to organize an event like this, a call-in just to make sure that students are getting civically engaged,” they said. “There was a need to have students voices heard to stop really bad policies. … We know that there’s been a huge resurgence of this kind of civic engagement that we haven’t seen in a while.”

Luke Jarzyna ’18, one student at the call-in, felt motivated to act in the wake of the recent political turmoil. “I don’t want to be passive on the cusp of what could be a moment of historic change,” he said. “I feel almost as though it’s my duty, in a way.”

Amelia Darling ‘20 felt that attending events like the call-in is one of the most effective ways she can fight the new administration’s agenda. “There are a lot of really fucked up things happening in our current political climate,” she said. “I feel really helpless and this is the only thing I can actually do because I live in Iowa and I can’t really protest, so I can just make phone calls.”

The Rosenfield program sponsored an Executive Order Teach-in, which focused primarily on the travel ban and its implications. Professor Sarah Purcell, Director of the Rosenfield Program, introduced the Teach-In by saying, “This particularly is an issue that is hitting home at Grinnell with some of our international students. Regardless of political opinion, this affects our students.”

“Since the election, I have talked to quite a few students who support Donald Trump, and people who are on the Republican side, so I definitely know that that is an element of the student population. And, I think directly helping international students is a different order of activity. That is not partisan, that’s taking care of Grinnellians,” Purcell said in an interview with The S&B.

The Teach-In featured Purcell, as well as Professor Caleb Elfenbein, religious studies; Professor Peter Hanson, political science; Professor Wayne Moyer, political science; Karen Edwards, Director of International Student Affairs; and Professor David Cook-Martín, Director of the Institute for Global Engagement.

After Purcell’s introduction, Elfenbein spoke on some of the different contexts surrounding the executive order, including the dehumanization both abroad and in the U.S., as well as Islamophobia and an expected increase in hate crimes towards Muslim-Americans and immigrants from the affected countries.

Hanson, who specializes in part in constitutional law, compared the immigration ban to the history of immigration policy in the U.S. going back to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and a lot of the rhetoric that was used towards immigrants in the 1920s. He then went on to address congressional obligations and limitations of executive orders.

“[For Congress to act] it is going to take some time and the reason for that is even though the president’s national approval ratings are somewhere between 35 and 45 percent, his support among Republicans remains strong. And because our congressional districts are extraordinarily homogenous, it is very likely in many Republican Congressional districts his rating is above 50 percent. If that changes, we can expect Congress will put a serious check on him because they follow their political incentives,” Hanson said.

Next, Hanson talked about potential political transformations, specifically in California and states that followed suit. Before 1988, California was a red state. Anti-immigration policy towards Latin American individuals and a growing Latinx population caused the political climate to shift towards blue. Hanson finished up his portion by encouraging people to mobilize.

“Social movements cause change. Political mobilization causes change. The courts are a short-term option. Courts mirror society. What causes change is people making their voices heard,” Hanson said.

Moyer argued that the executive order is counterproductive to U.S. foreign policy in various ways. In 1951, the U.S. signed a treaty promising to accept refugees escaping violence in their countries.

“President Trump apparently didn’t know about it and Angela Merkel reminded him about it when they talked on the telephone last Saturday,” Moyer said.

In addition, this order has an affect on soft diplomacy, which is how other countries view and wish to interact with the U.S. It also is going to affect our relations with various European countries, undermining the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“The current leaders of these countries are counting on the support of the U.S. to strengthen their electoral defenses, and Trump’s election didn’t help in the sense that he is both a nationalist and a populist. The refugee ban strengthens nationalist forces, the governments are weakened, it aggravates what already is present in Europe which is a lack of trust particularly in Trump, who is very ambiguous on his foreign policy commitments and has very little credibility in Europe and his propensity to twist facts does not help at all,” Moyer said.

Edwards followed by explaining that the executive order not only influences politics, but emotionally impacts Grinnell students and faculty,  as well as people all over the world. She also talked about xenophobia and its role in influencing an order like this one.

Finally, Cook-Martín spoke about the importance of understanding the implications of the president’s actions, so that people can raise questions and challenge executive orders. He then went on to talk about the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which changed the quota system that had been based on national origin and race.

“This is not a slight move of the policy needle in a particular direction. If it stands, it is a massive shift in the kind of immigration policy that we have had over the last 220 years. … What this executive order then represents is a going back to pre-1965 era. It’s the first time since then in 52 years that we are now selecting on that kind of basis. If you take the span and scope of this, it’s a massive shift,” Cook-Martín said.

Right after Cook-Martín, the floor opened up for questions. Students, faculty, staff and community members raised questions about various topics, including the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, potential upcoming military action, actions Trump might make next, precedents being set, the potential criminalization of peaceful protests and finally how this all happened.

Moyer mentioned that Republican representatives were not consulted about this order. Elfenbein and Cook-Martín talked about bureaucracy, and border control and customs.

“When agencies within the federal bureaucracy don’t adhere to federal court decisions, that’s deeply alarming. Thinking about the department of homeland security, and border control, that really seems to be one of the big questions,” Elfenbein said.

“This discretion has been there for a long time and there are many cases in which there are abuses of that discretion. This is simply revealing some of the underlying practices that are already in place,” Cook-Martín added.

During the question and answer session, Professor Kesho Scott, sociology, offered her thoughts about the president’s economic agenda, and about the changing face of political mobilization and social movements.

“In terms of civil disobedience, many of those activities are organized by small groups of people and it catches fire in the hearts of other people. What seems to be happening now is that people really are accepting that there’s no one size fits all way of using their privilege to help something,” Scott said. “They were reporting that more lawyers were going to airports and saying, ‘how can I be of help to you?’ They didn’t want fame, they didn’t want to be on TV, they just wanted to do the right thing. This is a very different way we’re going to understand movements in this country.”

Events like call-ins, write-ins and teach-ins are some of the ways that Grinnellians have been partaking in actions against the executive order; however, the organizing efforts extend past campus limits, as the community members of the City of Grinnell begin to organize as well. On Thursday night at Saint’s Rest, there was a community meeting for any activists looking to get involved with issues regarding the Trump administration in general.

Professor David Harrison, French, helped organize the meeting.

“Along with some other people, I as a private citizen have been trying to organize people to respond to the agenda of the Trump administration in a way that is the most useful,” he said.

Acting as a concerned citizen, and outside of his role of a Grinnell professor, Harrison began the organizing process with several other faculty members and community members after being inspired by “Indivisible,” a guide written by former congressional staffers that tells average civilians the most effective ways to lobby their congressional representatives for change.

Harrison saw the meeting at Saint’s Rest as a first, organizational step, which he hoped would result in a network of local activists working together to stay informed and enact change. “We’re going to try to create a distribution list of these individuals to be able to inform them of what’s going on and what action should be taken,” he told The S&B on Wednesday, before the meeting.

“Furthermore, we hope to have individuals come forward at this meeting who are willing to take charge of monitoring any legislative or executive action in a particular issue area.” He hopes that by having people spearheading specific issues, activists can streamline communication, and ultimately end up with one person writing a weekly “to-do list of actions that can be taken in specific areas.”

Harrison, while potentially looking to take charge of monitoring a specific issue, largely looked to be inspired. “I would like to be inspired by other people’s passion, other people’s leadership, other people’s ideas.”

On Sunday, Feb. 12, SGA is hosting “Learning to Lobby” in JRC 101 from 2 to 5 p.m., which will be followed the next day by a trip to the offices of Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley in Des Moines.

Editor’s Note: Louise Carhart is the Sports Editor for The S&B

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