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Rochester: Travel ban has some foreign students afraid to go home

UR student Mustapha Ibrahim, right, who is from Somalia, joined a February protest. He is staying at UR over the summer rather than visit his homeland for fear he might be denied re-entry to the United States. (Photo: MAX SCHULTE/@maxrocphoto/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

University of Rochester student Mustapha Ibrahim never thought he’d be carrying a sign saying “I just got banned” at a February protest against President Donald Trump’s order barring visitors from seven predominately Muslim nations —including Ibrahim’s homeland, Somalia.

A lot has happened since then, including various courts blocking implementation of Trump’s original order seeking a 90-day ban and a revised version.

But the fears and concerns among international students persist as the attempted ban is contested in court.

Ibrahim, who just completed his freshman year at UR, has decided to stay in Rochester for the summer instead of returning to his homeland — for fear that he wouldn’t be permitted back into the United States.

He is among at least 15 UR undergraduates being helped by the university over the summer because they are from one of the countries targeted by Trump’s visa ban or because they think their homeland might be subject to such a ban in the future.

“There is definitely anxiety among some students,” said Molly Jolliff, director of international student engagement at UR. That anxiety, however, has been eased by a strong support network that includes UR working with the interfaith religious community to connect students with host families.

UR had 1,314 undergraduates and 1,572 graduate students from other nations last fall.

While there is no way of tracking what all these students are doing over the summer, many of the international undergraduates plan to go home for the summer.

But the concerns continue, and despite the Trump administration’s claims that Muslim students aren’t being singled out, the sentiment among students seems strong that they are.

“I believe nobody should be discriminated against because of their religion,” said Ibrahim, 20, who is an economics and math major.

The six predominately Muslim nations now targeted by Trump are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. Iraq has been dropped from the list.

UR student, Azmayeen Rhythm, 21, is not from one of these nations but fears that his homeland, Bangladesh, will be put on this list.

As a result, while he is willing to risk going abroad for about a month in June in a study abroad program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Rhythm doesn’t want to risk visiting his family in Bangladesh — a predominately Muslim nation.

“We are living in uncertainty,” said Rhythm, who is computer science major.

Both Ibrahim and Rhythm are members of UR’s Muslim Students’ Association — a group that has aired concerns about the ban.

“Many of my friends are going back to Muslim countries to see their families, but they know there is a possibility that the travel ban will occur,” said Rhythm.

Jolliff, who is also associate director of UR’s Center for Advising Services, put out a survey for students to express concerns about their summer plans.

Almost 50 responded. Jolliff is keeping track of about half of them — with about 15 in the “high need” category.

“I have worked to build a support program for them,” said Jolliff. “Many of them are getting jobs.”

International graduate students at UR have a number of options.

Stephanie Krause, associate director of the International Services Office at UR, said that many graduate students are either continuing their studies and research during the summer term or are pursuing internships and other professional development activities in the United States or abroad.

“There is some concern about international travel this summer, but I can’t really quantify how extensive that is,” Krause said.

And she noted: “For UR graduate students, their experience often relies on the requirements and opportunities of their program of study, so there is a lot of variability in terms of needs, expectations, perceptions.”

Jolliff oversees courses about U.S. life and practices to help the undergraduates integrate into the community.

“It’s unpredictable what happens next. That is hard for students to navigate — what to do next,” she said.

Jolliff is helping to place international students who need housing or want friendship over the summer with host families.

The Rev. Denise Yarbrough, director of religious and spiritual life at UR, is helping make the placements.

“We have members of the Rochester interfaith community — Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu — who are willing to be host families,” said Yarbrough.

One of the first placements is a Palestinian UR undergraduate from the Gaza Strip who won’t be going home for the summer because he’s fearful of being denied re-entry to the United States.

The Rev. Gordon Webster, who has been active in various interfaith efforts, including the newly formed Interfaith Network, volunteered with his wife, Gloria, to be a host family that the Palestinian student can visit.

Gloria Webster identifies herself as a Palestinian-Arab-Roman Catholic from Jerusalem.

Hosting the student, said Webster, is to help provide friendship and stability.

“The religious community is saying, ‘We are all human beings,'” he said.

JGOODMAN@Gannett.com

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