When my mom told me that my family might not go to Colombia this summer like we’ve done almost every summer for the past 13 years, I was shocked. She kept nodding at me, while I looked at her in disbelief. But I also knew why she was telling me this: If we went to Colombia this summer, there could be a chance we would be banned from coming back.
This conversation happened the day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority nations. At first I thought my mom was overreacting, given that my parents are lawful permanent U.S. residents and I’m an American citizen. But as I thought it over, I realized that I had the same fear. The executive order is currently not in place due to judicial stays, but Trump has announced that he will be signing a new executive order on immigration – and that very well could keep people like my family and me from entering the country.
People like me, who are from families of legal aliens, had their worlds turned upside down when Trump signed the executive order last month. A legal alien is anyone who is not a citizen of the U.S. but is legally allowed in the country. They can be legal permanent residents, guest workers, tourists or students. I no longer feel welcome in the country I’ve called my home for 13 years because I’ve seen the president strike certain legal immigrants’ rights on a whim. And even though Colombia was not included in the executive order, the country’s history with drugs and violence could make Trump want ban to travel from Colombia too.
The executive order doesn’t just affect me because of my family’s immigration status. It affects GW students – like the international students who come to GW from Muslim-majority nations, and those that weren’t able to travel to the U.S. right after the ban was put in place. University officials and students should be outspoken against any presidential action that might affect the lives of immigrants. We need to petition, protest and contact our representatives to try and make our voices heard. We need to actively challenge discriminatory policies like this ban because legal aliens, immigrants and international students make our community a stronger and well-rounded institution.
After the ban was announced, I was proud to see University President Steven Knapp release a statement reaffirming that GW supports students from countries all around the world and would safeguard students’ records. Of course, for students like me, whose lives could be permanently changed, words of support won’t end the uncertainty. But hearing that students and officials support us makes me feel more comfortable.
Even though my future at GW is secure because I am a citizen, I’m still wary. Legal immigrants have been denied entrance into the U.S. even though they’ve been living here for decades and have followed all legal guidelines. My family and I visit Colombia regularly, and if an immigration order were signed that limited travel into the U.S. from Colombia, my parents could be detained.
My family first arrived in the U.S. in 2004 with a political asylum because of the Colombian guerilla group, FARC. My parents and I became legal permanent residents in 2009, and last year I became a U.S. citizen on my own. This country has been our home for 13 years, and even though we plan to move back to Colombia after I graduate, I will visit the U.S. often.
Of course, Colombia is not on the list of banned countries. But Colombia’s long history of drug trafficking could be a reason to add the country to the list in an alternative executive order. Colombia’s violent past leaves many people seeking asylum in the U.S. I would like to think that Trump wouldn’t close the doors to Colombian war refugees. But the original ban included refusing refugees from Syria. And it’s hard not to see the similarities between what’s been going on in my country for 50 years and what’s going on in Syria now.
GW has a large international student community. And even though Trump’s actions might only affect those from the Middle East, there’s nothing stopping him from punishing immigrants from other parts of the world. I discuss these fears with my family on a daily basis, and I’m sure other international students share the same feelings. My dad constantly tells me that we are safe as long as Trump continues to focus on the Middle East. But this does little to assuage my fears.
There is immense uncertainty in the immigrant community right now, so it is up to all of us to make immigrants, legal aliens, permanent residents and international students feel welcome. Until we know what comes next, officials and students need to continue to support international students and immigrants.
Laura Castro Lindarte, a junior double-majoring in journalism and political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.