South Florida universities scramble to protect students from Trump’s executive order

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring the citizens of seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States, South Florida colleges and universities scrambled to understand how their students and staff would be impacted.

Over the weekend and on Monday, they hurried to identify students and staff from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, the countries whose citizens were targeted by Friday’s executive order, which calls for a 90-day ban denying entry into the U.S. from these seven countries.

University leaders issued public statements of support for those impacted and referred them to legal services and other resources. They also urged faculty and staff from the countries listed in the ban to avoid leaving the United States until it is clear whether they will be allowed to reenter.

“As a community, we must come together to support those among us who may be feeling particularly vulnerable during this uncertain time,” Florida International University Provost Kenneth G. Furton stated in a memo. “Members of our University community, who are from these countries, may want to postpone travel abroad until there is clarity as to how nationals from these countries will be admitted or re-admitted to the United States.”

University of Miami President Julio Frenk recommended that faculty and students from the seven targeted countries postpone any international travel plans. “As we receive more clarification on the executive order, the University will work closely with international members of our community to ensure they receive our support,” he said in a statement.

Universities across the country quickly found themselves among the institutions most impacted by the ban. Although more often thought of as hubs for Latin American students, South Florida universities also attract dozens of students from Africa and the Middle East.

FIU identified 149 students from the impacted countries, including 129 students from Iran and 16 from Syria. Another 43 faculty and staff, almost all from Iran, could also be affected, according to FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana. Miami Dade College has 33 students from the affected countries and St. Thomas University has one student and three employees. Broward College and the University of Miami declined to say how many students may have been impacted.

Nova Southeastern University recruits heavily from the Middle East, and said that of the 1,379 international students attending the university on student visas, roughly one-third are from predominately Muslim countries, although the university did not know how many were from the countries named in the executive order.

Anthony DeNapoli, associate dean of international affairs at Nova, said he will continue his plans to go to student recruitment fairs in April in Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, which attract students from throughout the Middle East. “We are not stopping anything,” he said. “We will continue to recruit students; we will meet with students and alumni in those countries. It is business as usual as far as we are concerned.”

Nisreen Shehadeh is a member of the Muslim student association at Florida Atlantic University. Although she is not from one of the countries listed in the executive order, she said the ban has affected her because it appears to be religiously motivated.

“Most students I know, when they hear about the ban they’re shocked about it and they’re surprised it’s even allowed to be a thing, considering everything we’ve learned about in school,” she said. “We usually learn history and the bad things about it so we don’t repeat it, but we are repeating it.”

Miami Herald staff writers Amy Sherman and Joey Flechas contributed to this report.