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Colleges to their international students: Don't leave the country

Daniel Doerr, University of Missouri-St. Louis' assistant director for international studies, advises students about the impacts of President Donald Trump's travel ban at a forum Tuesday, Jan. 31.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Daniel Doerr, University of Missouri-St. Louis' assistant director for international admissions, advises students about the impacts of President Donald Trump's travel ban at a forum Tuesday afternoon.

Updated, Jan. 31 7:10 p.m. with advice from University of Missouri-St. Louis officials: 

Local colleges are advising all international students to avoid leaving the country amid President Donald Trump's executive order barring entry to travelers from seven countries.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis held a forum for students Tuesday afternoon to offer advice and support and to answer questions from international students about how the executive order impacts them. Staff members from the international office admitted there is still much they don’t know about the executive order’s long-term impact.

"Our best advice for all students right now is to avoid international travel, especially if they are from some of the countries that are on the list of the federal ban," said Daniel Doerr, UMSL’s assistant director for international admissions.

There are 27 students studying at UMSL who come from the seven countries listed by the Trump Administration – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The 90-day travel ban runs through late April, before the spring semester ends. Travel out of the United States during the semester could cause scrutiny from customs and border patrol agents for any international student visa holder, Doerr said.

International students have expressed anxiety about the possibility of being stuck in the United States out of fear they won’t be able to return home. “There’s been a lot of stressful conversations in our office,” Doerr said.

Students from more than just the seven nations affected have been calling the international office. “We’re as confused as some of them,” he added.

UMSL’s police department can’t be compelled by federal immigration agencies to enforce immigration law or detain foreign students, said Capt. Dan Freet. If asked to do so, Freet said his answer is no. “I’m not going to jail (someone) for somebody else’s agenda,” Freet said.

Credit Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
University of Missouri-St. Louis students listen to a staff member about the impacts of President Donald Trump's travel ban from seven countries.

The president of Washington University, Mark Wrighton, expressed the same support for international students, saying in a statement the college's police force will not act as immigration officers.

Wrighton added the school will "zealously protect" the privacy and immigration status of students.

Here’s some of the advice offered by UMSL to international students:

  • Carry a completed G-28 document, which authorizes international travelers to an attorney.
  • Carry contact information for the international office at the college.
  • Never sign an I-407 document, which forfeits Green Card holders of their residency.
  • If needing to travel to their home countries over the summer to renew a visa or apply for a work training visa extension, expect longer than normal application times.
  • Be aware the executive order states travelers can be detained on “suspicion” of a violation.

Leaders of the entire University of Missouri System is a letter sent out Sunday advising international students to avoid travel. Webster University’s president Beth Stroble told her campus that “those who choose to travel could have difficulty re-entering the United States.”
Erica Hunzinger contributed reporting.

Original article, Jan. 30:

The heads of colleges and universities in the St. Louis area say the travel ban for people from seven countries by President Donald Trump negatively affects their students and the higher education community.

Several school presidents issued statements over the weekend, offering support for international students, while also advising them to reconsider overseas travel. Saint Louis University President Fred Pestello said this in his statement, while noting he was attending a conference on campus inclusion:

I want it to be abundantly clear that Saint Louis University supports our students, faculty, physicians, and staff from the affected countries and all who are immigrants, refugees, asylees or otherwise at risk; you are part of the SLU community. You are not alone. We stand with you. You make our University stronger.

The order, titled "Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," bans travel to the United States for 90 days and refugee resettlement for 120 days for people from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya. Green Card holders, foreign-born people with permanent American citizenship, are being allowed into the country, the White House later clarified.

Over the weekend, travelers from those countries were detained at U.S. airports, or denied boarding planes at their points of origin. It sparked protest at several airports, including here in St. Louis. Protests also took place at Poelker Park across from St. Louis City Hall to express opposition to the order and support of immigrants and Muslims.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and many other top Republican leaders praised Trump for taking action. Blunt said in a statement he does not support a ban on Muslims, but does support increased vetting of travelers from the countries listed in the ban. "Our top priority should be to keep Americans safe," he said.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, has also said religion should not be a test, but vetting should be increased.

Pestello and other college executives noted the interpretation and enforcement of the executive order is still fluid and they are studying its implications on students. There are 17,000 students studying in the United States from those seven countries, according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

Trump's "order has caused adverse effects on our university community and the United States research community as a whole," said Mark Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University. "It is having a very direct, negative impact on specific members of our community and the executive order should be withdrawn."

Washington University is an internationally renowned school that attracts students from all over the world. Webster University  has several campuses around the world, and has students from 140 different countries enrolled. "Our international community has strengthened the University’s core values of diversity and inclusion," President Beth Stroble said.

As for the University of Missouri System, Interim President Michael Middleton and Mun Choi, the president-designate, offered support and guidance from the university for international students in a joint statement. They recommended students postpone trips and reach out to the international office for assistance.

The St. Louis campus of the UM System will hold an open discussion Tuesday afternoon from 2-4 p.m. in the student center.

What's your immigration story? 
If you are being touched personally by President Trump's executive order, and have your own immigration story to share, please click here and respond through our Public Insight Network.

Willis Ryder Arnold and Jason Rosenbaum contributed. Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.