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Local colleges, agencies cope with impact of immigration ban

President Trump’s executive order denying citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries entry into the United States threatened to keep a small group of University at Buffalo students from continuing their studies this semester.

But UB officials said Monday that the controversial order, coupled with Trump’s campaign rhetoric on Muslims, could have much a broader and more devastating impact on American higher education.

Stephen C. Dunnett, vice provost for international education at UB, already was receiving reports from university recruiters in Asia suggesting that potential students were becoming wary of enrolling in U.S. institutions.

And some international students who were admitted to UB for the fall 2017 semester have expressed reticence.

“Their Plan B is they’ve applied to Canadian universities,” Dunnett said. “Applications to Canadian universities by international students shot up by more than 28 to 30 percent in some cases. Australia also has a similar situation. So this will be harmful long term.”

[Related: Collins says president is being 'sensible' with immigration ban]

The temporary ban on entry affects a relatively small number of international students who hail from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The Trump administration has maintained that the order is not specifically aimed at Muslims, but potential students from other nations with large Muslim populations view it differently.

Checking whereabouts

Recruiters in largely Muslim nations in Asia already were being asked by potential students if it was still safe to come to the United States, Dunnett said. Concern was growing on campus, as well.

“We have a large numbers of students from other Muslim countries who are not on this list, and so they’re concerned that they may be added to the list,” Dunnett said.

“This is all speculative. We cannot guarantee that they wouldn’t be, and we just try to reassure them and remind them that they’re here on a proper U.S. Department of State visa and they should go to class and do their studies and homework, and we hope that nothing else will happen.”

The university has about 5,200 international students, not including an additional 1,500 to 2,000 students on optical practical training, a postgraduation employment period. They represent roughly 17 percent of the entire student body at UB.

The spring semester started Monday, and university officials were aware of at least one graduate student who was due back to campus but was being held up in Dubai. Two dependents of a UB graduate student also have not been able to enter the country due to the new restrictions.

UB was still in the process of learning the whereabouts of other students, although Dunnett said that “probably a majority” of the 122 from the seven nations cited in the order did not return to their home countries at the end of the fall semester and should be fine.

The university also has 20 foreign nationals from the affected nations employed as faculty or staff. One of the employees was detained at the Peace Bridge over the weekend.

Medaille College also had at least one student from Iran who was having difficulty getting back into the United States, according to an email that President Kenneth M. Macur sent to faculty and staff Monday.

At SUNY Buffalo State, 17 students from the seven countries were enrolled, but all of them have green cards, and the college received no reports of any travel issues for them on the weekend.

Trump’s order confirmed fears that many people expressed when he campaigned on a plan to ban Muslims from entering the country.

[Related: Dozens protest Trump's immigration order at Buffalo airport]

“The Muslim community feels they are singled out by this president. They feel as if they are being targeted by the executive order,” said Anwar Al-Kalai, president of Imam Council of Western New York.

Trump’s order also limited entry for refugees seeking to rebuild their lives in America. The International Institute of Buffalo was due to welcome 22 new refugees in February who will now not be allowed in under a moratorium prohibiting resettlement for 120 days.

The moratorium affects non-Muslim nations as along with Muslim ones, so refugees from Congo and Burma will be denied entry along with those from Iraq, Somalia and Syria who were scheduled to arrive in Buffalo in the coming weeks, said Denise Beehag, director of refugee resettlement.

More than half of them already have family here who were expecting to be reunited with their loved ones.

‘Sense of betrayal’

“The first reaction is sadness, fear, anxiety and, I think, a sense of betrayal,” Beehag said.

One father of four from Somalia has been waiting for five years for his wife to arrive. They likely got separated in Somalia while fleeing, and were processed separately for refugee status.

Immigration attorney Michael B. Berger had to inform a Yemeni client who has been waiting more than four years for his wife to arrive in this country that he’s not sure when she’ll be allowed entry now.

“The case should have been approved three years ago,” Berger said. “What can I tell him? He’s crying to me. What can I tell him?

“He is just beside himself. We were so close, and now they just yanked it from him.”

Blocked from Niagara Falls

Trump’s order also blocked Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County from carrying out plans for Niagara Falls resettlement of 50 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Maria Domingo, director of the Jewish Family Service resettlement program, said that all refugee transfers are on hold for at least 120 days, except for two people, a brother and sister from Congo, who left a refugee camp in Zambia on Friday, before Trump issued his order.

They are en route to the United States and are scheduled to arrive at Buffalo Niagara International Airport today, Domingo said. Jewish Family Service wants to find them an apartment in Buffalo. Five other refugees were to have left a camp in Turkey for Buffalo this weekend, but Domingo said that won’t happen now.

With the U.S. ceiling for refugee admission being cut in half, from 100,000 to 50,000, “that’s really impacted how many refugees we can bring in and from which countries,” Domingo said.

She said that with the lower limit, Jewish Family Service won’t be able to place more than 150 refugees in Buffalo and 25 in Niagara Falls this year.

Her agency was planning to bring 300 refugees to Buffalo from Iraq, Somalia and Syria, all of which are on Trump’s list of nations from which no refugees will be admitted for the time being. “Those are the populations that we have traditionally brought in,” she said.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said that it is no longer certain that 50 Congolese refugees ever will make it to the Falls, as had been planned for the last two months.

“I don’t know that they would pick up where they left off,” he said. “I think all bets are off now, and we’re just going to have to see what happens,” Domingo said. “We are requesting a specific population, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only population that would come to Niagara Falls. We wanted to build communities, but that doesn’t mean it was set in stone that only the Congolese were going to come.”
‘Very tumultuous for us’

Dyster added that “none of the people for Niagara Falls were in transit. Jewish Family Service was afraid something like this might happen, so they tried to avoid putting people into limbo-type situations. I told Jewish Family Service we’re still very interested to work with them. I asked them to let us know immediately if this situation changes and if there’s anything we can do to be helpful.”

Agencies such as Jewish Family Service are paid $925 by the federal government for each refugee admitted, and that money is supposed to pay for the refugee’s food and lodging for the first month, Domingo said.

“We operate on a very small budget,” she said. “No arrivals means no income, so it becomes very tumultuous for us for the next four months.”

News Staff Reporters Thomas Prohaska and Jane Kwiatkowski Radlich contributed to this report.

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