Left: In this Aug. 28, 2015, file photo, President John Simon poses on the memorial walkway outside of the Alumni Memorial Building. The Office of International Affairs recently formed a committee for Lehigh students affected by President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. (Chris Barry/B&W Staff) Right: Provost Pat Farrell poses for the camera. Farrell is a member of the immigration committee along with President John Simon. (Courtesy of Lehigh University website)

Committee formed to support students impacted by executive orders

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Somayeh Khakpash, ’15, planned on returning to her home in Iran for spring break to celebrate the Persian New Year with her family.

The reformed immigration ban issued by President Donald Trump changed that.

“I don’t know when the next time I am going to see my parents (will be),” Khakpash said. “I don’t even know what my future looks like.”

In response to Trump’s order banning immigration from seven countries, Lehigh has created an immigration committee to serve and protect members of the community who are directly affected by the order.

Lehigh has 55 students from the affected countries. Of those students, 48 are from Iran.

“We have a rapidly changing situation, and we need to keep an eyeball out in order to have a coordinated university response,” said Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs. “The committee is comprised of individuals who have weight in decision-making rules on campus.”

The immigration committee includes President John Simon, Provost Pat Farrell and various senior and associate deans. In an email sent out to the Lehigh community March 1, Matherly said the committee meets biweekly to update students on the latest developments regarding federal immigration laws and policies.

“The objective is to bring in the necessary people who will have something to bear on the discussion at hand and have an impact on the Lehigh community,” Matherly said. “The executive orders are changing constantly, and in order to ensure students’ protection, the committee needs to be effective in keeping updated on the situation.”

Khakpash said she has attended multiple events to learn more about the orders. She said they have helped her adjust to her changing travel circumstances.

Lehigh helped Khakpash get in contact with a lawyer in the event of any difficulties traveling. She said the conversations she’s had with people have been welcoming and she appreciates knowing other people who are struggling.

Director of the International Students and Scholars Office Samba Dieng said the immigration committee’s goal is to follow every new executive order and get in contact with students as soon as possible to discuss their implications.

“The primary reason for the committee is to use our resources and brainstorm ideas to serve our international students that have been affected,” Dieng said. “We have brought in outside counseling to meet with our students and discuss the immigration (policies). They have told students to engage in travel only if it’s absolutely necessary.”

The immigration committee is hosting special events for students in order to show its support. Dieng said the events are a good way to have fun and help students relax in times of need. The committee is hosting a bowling party on March 14 for students who are staying on campus over spring break.

“Here, people are really nice to me, and I am so glad I have made so many friends here,” Khakpash said. “But I am unable to think about my future, and I don’t know when I will see my parents next because they can’t even visit me.”

Khakpash said one of her main concerns is the thought of possibly going to jail.

“I have no idea what is going to happen to me,” she said. “Everything right now is very questionable. The fact that the laws of this country say they aren’t sure whether I should go home or not, because I might not be able to come back, is queer to me.”

Khakpash’s visa expires on July 3, and she is very doubtful about her current situation. She said nothing is predictable anymore.

She said widespread knowledge of the ban might change people’s perspectives on how those around them are affected.

“I think it is very important people have all the right information about this subject,” Khakpash said. “And I don’t think a lot of people do.”

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2 Comments

  1. Trump’s latest Executive Order can be found at this link:

    https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/03/06/executive-order-protecting-nation-foreign-terrorist-entry-united-states

    Section 3 says that someone with a valid visa may indeed enter.

    The article above indicates she has a valid visa that is good until July 3.

    The key question that needs to be answered is whether it is a multiple entry visa that allows her to leave and come back again.

    I suspect she has an F-1 student visa as described in this link:

    https://www.usimmigration.com/visa-f1.html

    As you will see, this is normally a multiple entry visa.

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