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Travel Ban Could Have Lasting Effect On Oregon Universities

The Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to uphold the Trump Administration’s travel restrictions on certain countries directly affects more than 180 international students at Oregon's largest public universities.

University officials are also concerned that it could mean the end of attracting students from Muslim-majority countries, like the ones affected by the travel ban.

Portland State University has students from five of the seven travel-ban countries, and officials say if any of those students go home, they either can’t return here or it’s risky. Director of Media & Public Relations Ken Ma released a statement saying the biggest effect would be on two PSU students from Syria.

"Under the current travel ban, those students would not be permitted back in the United States if they return to Syria," Ma said in a statement.

Director of International Student Services Christina Luther clarified that Syria's situation is tougher because it was treated differently in the travel ban.

"According to the proclamation, entry is suspended for all non-immigrant visa categories," Luther said. "In the case of , their nationals can still apply for student-scholar visas."

But PSU officials said that distinction creates a situation that's only slightly better for the 47 PSU students from Iran, Libya, Venezuela and Yemen.

"Students with visas from those nations can continue to travel to and from the United States under the latest restrictions, although they will face heightened security checks and may run the risk of not being able to secure visas to return to the U.S.," Ma said.

For months, Luther said she has been advising affected students to stay in the U.S. rather than go home or travel and risk the consequences.

Oregon State University also has a substantial international student population, including representation from the same five travel ban countries as PSU. OSU officials are being circumspect in their advice to students, according to comments sent to OPB by Vice President Steve Clark.

"Until there is greater clarity on the implementation and enforcement of this executive order, we strongly recommend that members of the OSU community carefully assess all international travel plans, including plans to visit listed countries," Clark said.

Clark's comments suggest members of the OSU community look at where they're going, their residency status, and how important it is to travel "during this time of uncertainty." OSU also recommends seeking legal advice.

While OSU still senses "uncertainty" in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, PSU officials feel some finality.

Luther said there's greater weight to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court than the controversial order issued by President Trump.

"This decision by the Supreme Court really sends, in some respects, a more powerful message than the original order did," Luther said. "To have this ban, which seems to be somewhat arbitrary, upheld sends a pretty powerful message that we're hesitant to welcome people to this country."

While Luther said she has a pretty good sense of what to tell current international students — nearly 50 of them from ban-affected countries — she's less certain of what to tell aspiring college students in places such as Syria and Venezuela.

On one hand, Luther's job is to recruit and assist international students to enroll and attend PSU. On the other, the now legally-supported travel ban sets up those students for a difficult and uncertain journey as university students, based on their countries of origin.

“Whether or not we still encourage students from these countries to come to the United States, starting in fall ... I think we would be pretty frank with them, about the risk they’re taking and then just leave it in their hands to make that decision, ultimately,” Luther said. 

University of Oregon had slightly fewer students from the affected countries — 41 last fall, according to the Eugene Register-Guard. Oregon State had 94 this spring, and PSU, 48.

At all three universities, the country sending the most students is Iran. That's also the home country of PSU’s president, Rahmat Shoureshi, who was traveling overseas and not immediately available to comment on Tuesday's ruling.

Luther said the ruling undermines one of PSU's goals: to offer a diverse, international experience for its Oregon students.

She said she's been proud of helping "bring the world to PSU ... to have these students from all over the world in our classrooms, involved in our conversations."

Luther worries if a "chilling effect" continues, it will change PSU and the surrounding Portland community.

<p>Students walk across the South Park blocks in the heart of Portland State University's downtown campus. </p>

Rob Manning


Students walk across the South Park blocks in the heart of Portland State University's downtown campus.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Rob has reported extensively on Oregon schools and universities as OPB's education reporter and is now a news editor.