Richmond’s Office of International Education hosted a panel discussion Thursday to address the concerns of international students on campus regarding how a Donald J. Trump administration could affect their college experience.
The event, called “On the Eve of the Inauguration: Anticipating a Trump Presidency,” drew international and domestic students, faculty members and staff to the International Center Commons to consider the implications of a Trump administration.
“Trump is entering the White House at a time when the executive powers of the President of the United States are formidable,” said panelist Daniel Palazzolo, chair of the university’s political science department.
Students had the option to submit questions for the panelists before the event through a survey sent out by the Office of International Education. The majority of student questions were about potential changes to visa statuses and future employment opportunities.
“I’m here on a student visa,” sophomore Nicholas Yang said. “I want to go to grad school. The [Chinese] communist government is unpredictable, and I want more certainty.”
Martha Merritt, dean of international education, said the office had no way of knowing whether visas would change during Trump’s presidency, but she said she did not expect any drastic changes.
Panelist Stephen Long, associate professor of political science and international studies, agreed with Merritt. Long said it was a safe bet that immigration would not change dramatically.
However, Long also said that Trump would have sweeping powers over immigration laws, which could potentially impact visa issuance for Muslim students or students from majority-Muslim countries.
“It is technically legal to impose standards on immigration rules on people of different countries,” Long said. These standards may make it harder for Muslims to come back to the U.S., especially if they are not U.S. citizens.
The implications of these potential immigration laws are felt profusely by some international students who feel pessimistic about their prospects of getting jobs in the U.S. under the Trump administration.
Senior Haneen Abu Al Neel wanted to work in human rights advocacy upon graduation and planned on applying to human rights organizations working in the Middle East, but headquartered in the U.S. and Europe.
“I wanted to be employed here and then work back home [Jordan], but that wouldn’t be possible now if [Trump] does change what he wants to change,” Abu Al Neel said.
Other Middle Eastern students have expressed apprehension toward Trump’s inauguration and the implications it could have for their countries in general.
One student from a Middle Eastern country, speaking anonymously to avoid potential repercussions from his government, said he feared that the spread of Trump’s alt-right ideology would keep governments like his own from establishing democratic regimes.
Nevertheless, there are international students who support Trump and his immigration policies, such as Mexican student Guillermo Treviño, a sophomore. Treviño admires Trump’s pragmatic approach, saying he believes Trump will bring something to the table that the U.S. has never seen.
“I see him as a person who’s not afraid of making sacrifices,” Treviño said, “And I’m going to sound like the biggest traitor of all time, but regardless of your intentions, you can’t cross the border illegally.”
Sophomore Xu Yunfei shared this sentiment. He said Trump’s focus on domestic policies would benefit Americans.
“When I saw the election, I wanted Trump to win,” Yunfei said, “I wanted something special."
Contact reporter Sabrina Escobar at firstname.lastname@example.org.