Supreme Court upholds President Trump’s travel ban

The United States Supreme Court last Tuesday announced its decision to uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting seven countries, of which five are Muslim-majority nations.

The decision was immediately denounced by organisations and institutions in the higher education sector as a “giant step backwards”, “tarnishing” the country’s reputation and leading students and academics around the world to doubt they would be welcome to study or research in the US.

The ruling was narrowly passed by 5-4, with the court accepting the government’s argument that it was within the president’s power to decide national security policy and that he did have the authority to “suspend entry of aliens into the United States”.

This authority remained regardless of his provocative comments about Muslims posing dangers to America.

The Trump administration has argued that the restrictions are needed because the affected countries do not have adequate systems in place to share information about terrorist threats with the United States.

After the ruling, President Trump was jubilant, tweeting: “SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS TRUMP TRAVEL BAN. WOW!”

He said the decision was a “moment of profound vindication” after “months of hysterical commentary from the media and Democratic politicians”, according to a statement issued by the White House.

The announcement came as relief to the president, embattled on another front by opposition to his ‘zero tolerance’ of illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border, heightened by published video footage of children crying in despair after being separated from their parents and held in cages.

But Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said the higher education sector is “extremely disappointed”.

“In the current climate of harsh rhetoric on immigration, the travel ban contributes to the perception that this country is no longer a welcoming place for study and research by the world’s best and brightest international scholars and students.”

He said the amicus brief submitted by the American Council on Education along with 32 other higher education associations noted that the travel ban “puts at risk the network of learning, research and education that makes American higher education the envy of the world”.

“Many of our international students have gone on to invent groundbreaking technologies, start thriving businesses and assume leadership roles in governments and other organisations, both in the United States and abroad. International students contribute nearly US$37 billion to our economy and support over 450,000 US jobs,” he said.

“While we strongly support the government’s efforts to keep our nation secure, we fear this broadly written prohibition will have a long-term impact on our standing as a global leader and hamper our education and research enterprise and the overall US economy.”

Jill Welch, deputy executive director for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said the United States has prided itself on being a country that welcomes people from foreign lands on the founding premise of religious freedom and equal opportunity for all.

“Today we have taken a giant step backward as the Supreme Court ruled to uphold a ban perceived around the world as a thinly-veiled attempt to target Muslim-majority nations.”

The ruling upholds the third and latest version of the travel ban, issued in September, after earlier versions were challenged in the courts, forcing concessions. This version limits entry from seven countries in varying degrees. Those countries are Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Venezuela. Chad had recently been taken off the list after taking steps to meet security requirements. Trump had also pushed for increased scrutiny of visa applicants from Iraq.

The ban had been suspended by the judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled in December that the president had exceeded his authority in issuing the ban.

The US publication, Inside Higher Ed, found in February that the number of F student visas granted for students from the affected countries had dropped significantly, as had the number of short-term B visas, which are used by foreign scholars who visit the US for conferences.

The American Civil Liberties Union strongly condemned the Supreme Court ruling, stating via Twitter that "this is not the first time the Court has been wrong, or has allowed official racism and xenophobia to continue rather than standing up to it".

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said: "Discrimination is not a national security strategy, and prejudice is not patriotism. Let's call this ban for what it is: an outright attack on the Muslim community that violates our nation's commitment to liberty and justice for all."

‘Tarnished’ reputation

The higher education sector remains concerned about the impact of the ban on student and staff mobility and the message it sends more broadly about how welcoming the US will be to foreign scholars and students.

Welch of NAFSA said the ruling to uphold the travel ban “tarnishes our reputation” and “casts doubt in the minds of all students and scholars around the world that the United States is a welcoming nation that fosters religious freedom”.

“At a time when American universities should be making every effort to create connections and ties around the world through robust international exchange with all nations, especially those in the Middle East, the Supreme Court’s decision poses a grave threat to our national security and keeps us from building those necessary relationships abroad,” Welch said.

For the American Council on Education, Mitchell added that the harsh rhetoric around immigration issues, as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had noted, can “fuel a perception of exclusion”.

“This decision makes it far more difficult to maintain the United States as the destination of choice for the world’s best students, faculty and scholars, regardless of their nationality,” he said.

Welch fears the “chilling effect” of the policy and the uncertainty for international students and scholars will continue the current downturn in US international student enrolment.

“Today, the United States can be seen as a country that bans people from our shores, not on the basis of what they have done, but for where they are from,” she said, adding that the responsibility now lies with Congress to “stop further emboldening this administration in its anti-immigrant, xenophobic path under the guise of national security”.