Discriminatory bans turn American dream into nightmare


Any good newspaper is invested in the people behind the events they report on. The Peak is currently looking for sources who have been affected or know people who have been affected by the US travel ban. Please contact us to help us fulfill our responsibility to give SFU students the space to tell their story. This article will be updated as people step forward. Contact features@the-peak.ca if you’d like to share your story.

The American election last year was an event so unprecedented and unpredictable that it stumped pollsters and the mainstream media across the globe. Donald Trump rose to power, seemingly irrespective of what he said or did, blasting aside his opponents in the polls and on Twitter, or both. He was a bull elephant in a china shop.

On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump, despite losing the popular vote by 3 million ballots, won more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton, and on January 20, 2017, became the 45th president of the United States of America.

During his campaign, it seemed virtually impossible that such an irreverent person could win the presidency. There was a constant media storm surrounding Trump, including a video leak of him apparently bragging about sexual assault and him accusing journalists of asking him unfair questions.

But through all of the noise, he repeatedly made campaign promises that ranged from decidedly partisan to completely absurd. He bragged that he would build a wall along the Mexican border, and that Mexico would pay for it, and that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something “much better,” without giving any specifics. Possibly his most controversial promise? A ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Last month, the newly-inaugurated Trump wasted no time and signed 18 executive orders within his first 12 days in the Oval Office and shocked the world by following through on his divisive rhetoric.

Trump and the bad beginnings

On Friday, January 27, Trump signed an executive order that restricted travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries to the United States. Refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen were labeled by the Trump administration as threats to national security, and were barred from entry to the United States even if they were already permanent residents or had visas.

Trump’s executive order prevents the entry of those from those seven countries from entering the United States for 90 days and places a cap on the number of refugees allowed entry; 50,000, down from previously 110,000. Perhaps to invoke maximum irony, the ban was signed on Holocaust Memorial Day.

At its height, the ban affected 90,000 people, and resulted in chaos at borders and airports as travelers and security were unsure how to handle the situation. 109 people were detained at airports in the United States, although the number of those prevented from entering is likely much higher. Initially, the ban also targeted those with dual citizenship with one of the banned countries, prompting the Canadian government to get clarification that those who were traveling on a Canadian passport would not be affected.

Even so, about 200 people have also reportedly lost their Nexus card access to the United States, and several have since been barred from entering because of their religious or political views, some even with Canadian passports.

According to a statement by SFU president Andrew Petter, the ban affects 450 students, staff, and faculty members.

Since being introduced, there has been international outcry, and people across the globe asking the question: is this even legal? A question, shared by the federal appeals court in the USA. On February 9th, the court ruled unanimously to uphold a temporary pause on the ban, while its validity is investigated. Outraged, Trump took to Twitter to express his unhappiness. Many though, are feeling some relief know family members can travel home.

A response from the North

Response to the ban has been rapid and fierce from citizens and politicians alike, prompting protests all over the world. Many critics reference the fact that the ban is ostensibly about preventing terrorism, and yet no acts of terrorism have been committed from travelers from the those countries. Others point to the fact that terrorism causes less than 60 deaths a year in the United States, while gun violence kills over 30,000.

Canada has weighed in, with Prime Minister Trudeau tweeting a message of support soon after the ban was enacted, extending a Canadian welcome to refugees regardless of their faith.

The Great White North has also seemingly walked the walk. While Canada’s foreign policy isn’t perfect, it has certainly tried to keep up with the international refugee crisis. To date, almost 40,000 Syrians have been resettled here, with those taken in during 2016 almost tripling the Syrian refugees admitted to the United States. However, some have criticized Trudeau for not publicly denouncing the travel ban and President Trump.

With all of this Canadian goodwill and politeness on the world stage, social media has become something of a rallying point for smug Canucks. It doesn’t take much scrolling through Facebook comments to see that there are Canadians who think that nothing like this could ever happen here, but the nation’s 150-year history isn’t all sunshine and maple syrup.

Canada is not immune from hate

At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, it’s worthwhile to remember that Canada was hostile to Jewish refugees during World War II. Infamously, a vessel carrying 907 Jewish refugees was turned away from Canadian ports in 1939, leading to it eventually returning to Europe. Almost a third of the refugees died in concentration camps. Other similar refugee ships, like the Komagata Maru in 1914, the MS Sun Sea in 2009, and the Ocean Lady in 2010, all received welcomes of which many Canadians today would be ashamed.

Disregarding the history of tragedy, some politicians at home have attempted to use the same kind of rhetoric behind the US travel ban to win favour with voters. During the 2015 federal election, the Conservative Party of Canada took a firm stance against a woman’s right to wear the Muslim face veil, and went as far as to propose an anonymous tip line that citizens could use to report what the party was calling “barbaric cultural practices.” This line of politicking has apparently persisted, with Conservative leadership hopeful Kelly Leitch insisting that immigrants be tested for “Canadian Values” before being allowed entry.

With this kind of political environment at home and abroad, some thought that it was only a matter of time before the xenophobia manifested in an act of violence.

On January 29, it was perhaps not surprising, but no less tragic and senseless, when a lone terrorist shot and killed six Muslims in their Quebec City mosque while they were praying. Prime Minister Trudeau condemned the act of terrorism and vigils were held around the country. Funeral services in Quebec City and Montreal drew thousands of mourners.

Soon after the attack, the suspected shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, was taken into custody. The Quebec City native was reportedly enamoured with far-right politicians Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.

A campus community coming together  

Despite being on top of a mountain in a different country, SFU has felt the effects of the US travel ban. About one in eight SFU undergrads are international students, a number that is expected to grow as the US closes its borders to many.

In wake of Trump’s ban, many universities — SFU included — have released statements condemning the executive order. On January 29, SFU president Andrew Petter shared his thoughts in a message that was sent to every SFU student.

“[The ban] has generated fear and anxiety on the part of many members of our community, and has implications that are real and disturbing,” the statement reads. “Simon Fraser University is proud to be a globally engaged university and to welcome students, faculty, staff, and visitors from around the world. These international members of our SFU community bring a wonderful diversity of knowledge, experiences and perspectives, and make our university a better place for learning and living.”

The statement, however, made no mention of Donald Trump or his administration, and steered far from making any kind of political commentary.

Petter’s message was paired with an event that took place on the Burnaby campus on February 2. Around 1,000 students gathered in Freedom Square to participate in the “We Are All SFU” event. The gathering aimed to make students feel welcomed at SFU, no matter their faith or ethnicity. The afternoon festivities included free food, speeches, and activities for students to voice supportive words, as well as a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attack on the Quebec City mosque.

#Respect #SFU #weareallsfu

A photo posted by Chiara (@chiarakreutz) on

Later that week, law and public policy students from UBC and SFU rolled up their sleeves and participated in Research4Refugees. The event was a tangible show of support for those affected by the travel ban and had students help in the “drafting of legal opinions in response to questions posed by the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR).”

SFU needs to heal the divide

On Burnaby Mountain, SFU seems to be protected from world events because university students are in a strange purgatory before ‘real’ adulthood. But for the first time, perhaps since 9/11, something in the United States has demanded our attention.

This university is, and will hopefully always be, incredibly diverse. It is a place where we rub shoulders with people who have never seen snow, or who have never tried sushi. We also learn that it can be weird to enjoy watching curling, or to only know one language. While we’re here, we’re also exposed to the breadth of opinions which exist on things like public health are and women’s rights. We meet our friends, but we also meet people we don’t like. We’re a community of humans.

The bad news is that humans have this natural tendency to repeatedly treat each other like complete garbage. All along human history, races, nationalities, and religious beliefs have all been good enough reasons for people to be marginalized, enslaved, or killed.

The good news is that humans also have a history of rising up in the face of incredible adversity and permanently changing the world for the better. The suffrage movement, civil rights movement, and the women’s rights movement were all fought in communities that valued some people less than others.

So on this mountain, we need to decide how we will respond. We’re not immune to isolating ourselves from those who are different, and we’re certainly not immune to hate. In this place, only barely separate from our rowdy neighbour to the south, we have to really think about the community we want, and how that community will respond to the travel ban and the fear behind it.

It will take real work. Lawyers around the world are volunteering their time to help people affected. Tech companies, scientists, and Canadian universities are adding their voices to the opposition. Petter’s statement and the events held on campus were a start, but speeches and photographs are short-lived.

We can’t share a tweet with a #NoBanNoWall and expect it to change anything. Although the ban has been temporarily blocked by a Federal Court judge in Seattle and the White House lost the appeal, they could still ask the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

The future of those affected by the ban, as well as their friends and families, is uncertain, and it’s not clear how much what we do here matters on the global scale. But not doing or changing anything at all definitely won’t help.

Petter said it himself: we are all SFU. We are affected by this. In this community at least, we decide what happens next.

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