Leila Golestaneh Austin, the executive director of the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, said that the ban on students was limited in scope and directly tied to events in the world. This current immigration order, she said, seems to be “coming out of nowhere, really … It makes no sense.” And it’s not as if there haven’t been federal restrictions in place. In 2012, a federal policy indicated some Iranian students would be ineligible for visas if they wanted to study certain fields, such as nuclear science. At least one university temporarily banned such students.
Scott Aaronson, a computer-science professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of the popular blog, “Shtetl-Optimized,” wrote on his blog that he is no fan of Iran, “but when it comes to student visas, I can’t see that my feelings about the mullahs have anything to do with the matter. We’re talking about people who happen to have been born in Iran, who came to the U.S. to do math and science. Would we rather have these young scientists here, filled with gratitude for the opportunities we’ve given them, or back in Iran filled with justified anger over our having expelled them?”
During a follow-up phone conversation, Aaronson said he had an Iranian Ph.D. student who came to MIT several years ago visiting him in Texas and was pacing his home terrified about his future. Some students, he said, “ have very good reasons to be scared to go back.” And others, who might have been contemplating a post-doctoral program in the U.S. might now decide to go someplace like Canada, instead, which could “decimate academia.”
His university, he said, had sent out an email saying they were concerned and monitoring the situation. Dozens of schools across the country sent similar notes to faculty and students. The president of Princeton University, Christopher Eisgruber, reflected on his own family in his statement:
Princeton's position on immigration policy issues reflects our conviction that every single person on this campus has benefited from the ability of people to cross borders in search of learning or a better life. That is emphatically true for me. My mother and her family arrived in this country as refugees escaping from a war-torn continent. They would have perished had they been denied visas. My father first came to America as an exchange student from a country that had recently been at war with the United States, and he then studied at Purdue University as a foreign graduate student.
John DeGioia, the president of Georgetown University, wrote:
Our Catholic and Jesuit identity provides the foundation for our lives together. Guided by our mission, we have placed a special emphasis on interreligious dialogue and our openness to different faith traditions and cultures. This includes our efforts to support a diverse and vibrant Muslim community on campus.
“We still don’t know” what the immigration order means, Regulska said during our phone conversation. “We just know that we can imagine certain effects and those are important.” Keshavarz, at the University of Maryland, agrees. The U.S., she said, has been a place where different people and different ideas and different religions are welcome. “Now, we’re seeing that changing.”
Alia Wong contributed to this story.