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NM universities warn some students not to leave the U.S.

A view of New Mexico State University's student union on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017./Lauren Villagran

A view of New Mexico State University’s student union on Monday. (Lauren Villagran/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

To certain foreign students and faculty, a caveat: Don’t leave the country if you want to come back.

That was the advisory issued by New Mexico’s largest universities to those from the seven Muslim-majority nations affected by President Donald Trump’s travel ban, as uncertainty around the order’s implementation hung over campuses nationwide.

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The executive order issued Friday bars citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days; prohibits all refugees from entering the country for 120 days; and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees.

Defiant in the face of an international backlash, Trump pressed into his second week in office defending the ban, saying it targeted nations tied to terrorism and was not against Muslims.

Protests persisted at major airports, and concern mounted from U.S. diplomats and members of his own party.

And there was still confusion regarding the impact.

In a statement, the University of New Mexico Global Education Office said, “We appreciate how stressful and unnerving this situation is for everyone.”

More than 110 current and incoming students and professors at University of New Mexico are citizens of the seven countries; at New Mexico State University, the number is 65. About a dozen students and three faculty and staff members are from the affected countries at New Mexico Tech.

The largest contingent at all three is from Iran.

Citizens of the seven countries are not required to leave the U.S.; the risk is that if they do leave, “it is unclear whether or not they will be allowed to re-enter,” UNM’s Global Education Office said in a statement.

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“Similarly, visits from family and friends from their home countries is currently not an option,” UNM said.

Three students and three scholars scheduled to arrive on the UNM campus may not be able to travel now, a spokeswoman said. At least two foreign scholars scheduled to teach at Tech likely won’t be able to come, according to a spokesman.

Given uncertainty regarding how the order may be enforced, New Mexico Tech also advised its students to take care traveling near the Mexican border, where Border Patrol stops travelers at checkpoints on U.S. highways.

In a campuswide email on Sunday, NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers said, “At this time, we advise any NMSU student, faculty or staff member who are citizens of these countries not to leave the United States, even if you are a permanent resident of the United States, because it is unclear when you might be able to return.”

Trump’s executive order spawned confusion and chaos at airports globally over the weekend, as authorities initially interpreted it to include even legal permanent residents of the United States. Protests sprung up at Albuquerque International and airports from Los Angeles to New York.

A federal judge’s order staying implementation of part of the decree, and a statement by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly permitting entry of legal permanent residents from the countries shifted the order’s reach even as Trump defended the order in a series of tweets on social media.

Trump denied that his order was to blame for weekend chaos at the nation’s airports, instead pointing in social media messages to computer glitches, demonstrations and even the “fake tears” of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the only Republican in New Mexico’s congressional delegation, said the order was “poorly executed.”

“The recent executive order on refugees rolled out by President Trump was poorly executed, and struck confusion throughout the Department of Homeland Security and citizens at home and abroad,” Pearce said in a statement. “I applaud DHS Secretary Kelly for acting through the provisions laid out in President Trump’s order to permit lawful permanent residents and green card holders admission into the United States. Of course, our refugee policy needs a comprehensive assessment after years of the Obama administration failing to follow our immigration laws that were put in place. I hope the Trump administration takes immediate action to follow through on its plan to revise our security procedures so we can return to a safer America.”

The ban prompted predecessor Barack Obama to wade into politics for the first time since leaving office.

A spokesman for the former president said Monday that Obama “fundamentally disagrees” with discrimination that targets people based on their religion. Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis alluded to but did not specifically mention Trump’s order but added that Obama was “heartened” by the civil engagement being seen across the country.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Sunday that the seven countries selected for the ban were based on actions by the Obama administration.

In 2015 and early 2016, Obama placed limited restrictions on the visa waiver program for certain travelers who had visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen on or after March 1, 2011.

The executive order also affects foreigners from any nation requiring a visa to travel to the U.S. through a provision that reinstates mandatory in-person interviews for all visa applicants. Those interviews are generally conducted at embassies and consulates, complicating travel; how long a visa lasts depends on U.S. policy toward a given nation.

The Trump administration has defended the executive order as necessary to give it time to review vetting procedures.

Carruthers, who has previously declined to name NMSU a “sanctuary campus,” as some immigrant advocates called for in a recent petition, said in the campus email, “Among our most important responsibilities at NMSU is to provide a safe and caring community where all students can focus on learning without fear of persecution and where all faculty and staff know that they are valued and supported.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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