Associate Provost and Director of the International Students and Scholars Office David Austell announced increased staffing and support in the office at Thursday’s University Life Forum regarding recent immigration legislation.
The forum was prompted by an executive order issued by President Donald Trump that restricts immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries, bars refugees for 90 days, and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees. University President Lee Bollinger wrote in an email to the Columbia community that the ban is “discriminatory, damaging to America’s leadership in higher education, and contrary to our nation’s core values.”
On Monday night, over 500 students and faculty protested the ban on Low Steps, listing a series of demands for the University administration, including working with elected officials to undo the law and providing financial and housing assistance for affected students.
“Most of our work is nowadays related to immigration compliance,” Austell said of the ISSO. “This is simply because of the pressure that the U.S. government is placing on universities and colleges in the United States related to the international communities that are here.”
According to Austell, ISSO is expanding programming and resources “minute by minute” in order to respond to increased issues students from targeted nations are facing.
The office is adding international student advisers to both the Morningside campus and the Columbia University Medical Center. They are in the process of setting up an office in Kent Hall that will allow international student advisers to be accessible on campus for the first time. The office is also expanding the hours that it will be available to students.
In response to student questions about legal aid, Austell said that though they only have one lawyer in the office currently, they are looking to bring in pro bono legal counsel that can provide consultation services for students affected by the immigration ban. ISSO is also considering providing pro bono legal counsel to aid undocumented students who would be affected by the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
In addition to on-campus resources, ISSO is setting up a new interactive database to allow students to immediately access resources related to immigration.
ISSO has been reaching out to students who are affected or who could be affected by the travel bans. On Saturday, ISSO emailed students and faculty who are not on visas, nonimmigrant visa holders, or permanent residents from affected countries with information about campus resources.
“Literally, the messaging had not gone out five minutes on Saturday before I started getting return emails. Individually, we’ve been responding and reaching out. … Often it is a matter of not only technical issues that we are dealing with immigration-wise, but also a matter of information flow and simple comfort, reassurance, and confidence-building,” Austell said.
Students also raised concerns about other countries being targeted with immigration bans by executive orders, which Austell said are currently unsubstantiated. One student asked if the University would respond to the demands announced at Monday’s protest against the immigration ban, to which no panelist responded.
In addition to Austell, law professors Rose Villazor and David Pozen provided legal information about the executive orders, while Executive Vice President for Global Centers Safwan Masri spoke about the impact of the travel bans on the Middle East. Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldberg encouraged students to reach out to Counseling and Psychological Services and support their peers.