Hundreds of Stony Brook University students, professors and staff crowded the plaza in front of the Student Activities Center on Wednesday night to voice full-throated support of the school’s international community.
President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., addressing the throng, denounced President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travel by non-U.S. citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries to the United States and vowed to fight it.
“This form of discrimination is fundamentally opposed to the core values of Stony Brook University and the state of New York,” he said.
“We are doing all we can to help our students deal with their individual situations, and we are working with our congressional delegation and many other institutions and associations in their effort to find a way to get this executive order overturned,” Stanley said. “And we’re going to continue to do that.”
Trump’s action, he said, “upended the status” of about 80 students and faculty who hail from those countries. Among its 25,700 enrollment, Stony Brook has more than 4,400 international students, of which 1,978 are graduate students and 2,452 are undergraduates.
Verda Ahmed, a senior who is vice president of the Muslim Students’ Association, said, “This executive order is a moral offense to our values as Americans.”
The order, issued Friday afternoon, imposes a 90-day bar on non-U.S. citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It affects thousands of students in colleges on Long Island and across the country, many of whom are in the United States on student and visitor visas.
Stony Brook already saw a direct effect of the travel ban on one of its own — Vahideh Rasekhi, a linguistics doctoral student and president of the Graduate Student Organization, who was detained at Kennedy Airport over the weekend — and has united in support of her.
Wednesday night, Stanley said one student still is unable to return to the university. He did not elaborate.
Rasekhi, who is from Iran, was returning to the United States from a trip to visit family. She was held for more than 24 hours before being released Sunday afternoon, to the cheers of scores of people gathered outside Kennedy’s Terminal 4.
Rasekhi’s release was “a welcome victory,” Stanley said at Wednesday night’s rally. “But there is still much more to be done to reverse the damaging impact of this order, not just for the thousands of individuals from the seven countries named, but for all international students, scientists, engineers, faculty who want to come to the United States for the best higher education opportunities in the world.”
Adeel Azim, 20, a junior from Mount Sinai majoring in biology, said the community is galvanized to support Rasekhi and others affected by the travel ban.
“The entire community as Seawolves has to show the Trump administration that this is not OK,” Azim said. “A lot of people have started to take note . . . this is personal now.”
The “Seawolf Solidarity Rally” of about 500 people capped an eventful day on campus that included a midday student march and a separate immigration seminar.
Nearly 150 people — mostly international students — packed the hourlong seminar, held inside the theater of the Charles B. Wang Center.
Two immigration attorneys from the Manhattan law firm Barst, Mukamal & Kleiner gave a presentation on the possible impact of the executive order.
The legal experts noted that students, staff and faculty from the seven named countries are most at risk of non-entry and deportation — even if they are valid visa-holders and have been approved to be in the United States. The order puts a 90-day hold on visa-holders from those countries into the U.S., a 120-day suspension of refugees from any country and an indefinite freeze on refugees from Syria.
Alex Rojas, who has been practicing immigration law for 27 years, called the recent changes “amazing and startling.”
The students were silent as they listened to the presentation. About two dozen lined up at two microphones to ask questions about different kinds of visa classifications, questioning whether they are going to be able to travel back to their home countries or within the U.S., and whether their ability to complete their degrees and internships would be curtailed.
“If you stay put, you will be safe,” Rojas said, referring to students from the seven named countries. “At this point, I would advise anyone who holds a visa from one of those affected countries not to depart the United States.”
Referring to a memo circulating in the immigration legal community about the possibility of additional countries being affected in the future, Rojas said “it would be prudent not to travel until there’s further guidance” for anyone from Afghanistan, Colombia, Egypt, Lebanon, Mali, Pakistan, the Philippines and Venezuela.
Arslan Shahid, 26, a senior majoring in computer science, said he attended the event because of his worry that the list of countries included in the travel ban eventually will include his home of Pakistan.
“This is my senior year, so I want to make sure I finish,” said Shahid, who hopes to get an internship and eventually work in the U.S. He said he hasn’t been back to see his parents and siblings for two-and-a-half years because the flights have been too expensive.
His friend, Ammar Khandwal, also a senior in the undergraduate computer science program, said international students feel very uncertain and apprehensive.
“We’ve been talking about this, but what can we do?” said the 22-year-old, who lives off-campus in Mount Sinai. “We are not sure what is going on, and you never know what is going to happen.”