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FSU ‘here to support’ international students

By MICHELLE DILLON

Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — A room full of students, faculty and community members gathered Thursday on the shared campus of Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College to discuss President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and its effect on international students.

A total of 99 international students attend FSU, according to Amy Baker, director of marketing and branding.

Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 that bans people from seven Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States for 90 days. These countries are Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

The order also suspends new refugee admissions for 120 days.

History professor Dr. Kenneth Millen-Penn, political science professor Dr. Gregory Noone, computer science professor Dr. Mahmood Hossain and student government association president James Jesmer talked to those gathered about the executive order and the issues surrounding it.

After they talked, the participants answered questions from the audience.

Vice president of student services Tim Oxley made some opening remarks.

“The forum today is an opportunity for our campus community to assure our students and in particular our international students of our mutual concern over the current policies and initiatives of the new administration in Washington,” he said.

He hoped the forum would allay fears and concerns and provide additional information on the context on which the policies are being issued and the ramifications to students, Oxley said.

“As the vice president for student services, let me tell you, international students are a very important component to our institution,” he said.

“You have chosen Fairmont State University as the institution at which you seek your baccalaureate degree or your master’s education. You made the sacrifice of leaving your families, your home, your friends to come here to study with us. We are happy, more than happy, for the things that have engaged with us and to entrust us with that privilege.”

International students bring diversity to the campus that is not found in the mountains of Central Appalachia. International students are an important and integral part of the entire experience of the student body, he said.

“We are here to support you,” Oxley said.

Millen-Penn spoke first. He addressed the international students in the audience.

“What you’re experiencing is what is called nativism,” he said.

Nativism is also known as xenophobia and it has been around since the beginning of the United States. Nativists seek to exclude foreigners because they are seen as the enemy and as a threat, he said.

Millen-Penn talked about the history of anti-immigration feelings and laws in the United States.

In the 1790’s the country’s first anti-immigration law was passed. Its goal was to keep out the French because they were Roman Catholic and because the French were seen as radical due to the French Revolution. There have been other anti-immigration laws that sought to keep Irish, Chinese, German, Japanese, left-wing political people, eastern European and southern European people out of this county, he said.

“This hostility toward foreigners, this nativism that we are experiencing, has come and gone in American history,” Millen-Penn said. “It’s ebbed and flowed. It’s not always here, and I know you’re living through it now and I’m very sorry about that. But it’s not going to last. The American people always understand in time. We understand what’s wrong, and we understand what’s right.”

America has diversity as its history, he said.

“All of us were immigrants,” Millen-Penn said. “Even the Native Americans were immigrants. They came from Asia in the last Ice Age 20,000 years ago.”

Hossain spoke next. He shared his experiences of coming to the United States as a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh in 1998.

When he first came to this country with his wife he did not know if he was staying. The first few years they thought they would go back to Bangladesh. But they decided to stay to have a better future for their three children, he said.

It was not an easy journey to become a citizen of the United States. He had two different visas, and then it was almost 10 years before he got his green card. It took another five years to become a citizen, he said.

“Whether you are here for studying or to pursue the American dream, whatever that is, my experience says, ‘Always stay in compliance,’” he said. “That’s really important in these testing times.”

He told the international students in the audience that if they have questions about visas they are free to come and talk to him.

The next to talk was Noone. He also advised students to stay in compliance and to never lie on immigration forms.

Noone spoke about Trump’s executive order. The president can sign an executive order, and the executive order on immigration he signed is probably legal, Noone said.

He then talked about refugees.

“Refugees are the most vetted people in the United States of America,” Noone said.

The number of refugees that have participated in terrorism in this country is zero, Noone said.

“Terrorism itself, you’re more likely to be killed by your own clothing than a terrorist act,” he said. “Statistically it’s untenable that we’re afraid of (refugees).”

There are terrorist activities from native-born Americans. The Department of Justice is good at catching them, he said.

“We all didn’t start here,” Noone said. “What makes our country great, as corny as it sounds, is our diversity.”

Jesmer spoke last.

He told the international students that the school is there for them. The international students are not a large group, but they are a presence that is deeply important to the campus, he said.

Bashayer Aljishi, a senior health science major from Saudi Arabia, was one of the international students at the forum.

“As far as I know our country so far has not been afflicted by it,” she said. “The more I think about it, the scarier it gets because I feel like it is implicit that we are an aggressive nation or community. Calling it the Muslim ban sounds like it is against all Muslims.”

She is afraid people will assume all Muslims are dangerous and that is why they are not being allowed in the country, Aljishi said.

“It’s very nice to see the support that the Fairmont community has,” she said. “I’ve had so many professors ask how I’m doing or if I need anything.”

To think that there might be even one person who thinks Muslims are dangerous and decide to take it into their own hands is scary, she said.

Director of International Student Services Geneva Hines confirmed there is a Libyan student and there is an Iranian student who is a green card holder who could be affected by the executive order at FSU.

International students have come to her expressing fear about the executive order, she said.

“They’ve been in Fairmont,” she said. “Fairmont is relatively safe. They feel very comfortable at Fairmont State. We’re a close-knit group of people. Any negativity like that, they’re not used to. They’re concerned.”

Hines has been advising all international students to not leave the country right now because she is afraid they will not be allowed back in regardless of where they are from, she said.

Marc Atayi, a junior at FSU, is from Togo, and he expressed his opinion of the executive order.

“It scares me a little,” he said. “He’s the president and he can do what he thinks is the best for the country. It’s upsetting other people, and that could lead to something else that is not good for us.”

He has talked to his parents, and they are concerned about the situation and have told him to stay home when he is not in class, he said.

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