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    Monday, August 15, 2022

    Somali student at Conn worried if he goes home he won't be able to return

    Ibrahim Mohamed, 21, a first year student at Connecticut College speaks about his concerns with President Trump's ban on immigrants from seven countries including Somalia, Mohamed's home country, inside the Cro's Nest, in the Connecticut College Center at Crozier-Willliams on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)

    New London — Hoping to take advantage of early purchase discounts, Ibrahim Mohamed had been preparing to buy his plane ticket to go home to Somalia for the summer.

    Then on Friday, President Trump signed an executive order banning entry into this country for anyone from Mohamed’s home country and six other nations. Now Mohamed, a 21-year-old freshman at Connecticut College, is holding off on buying that ticket until he can be certain he’d be able to get back from Somalia to the United States, lest his college career come to an abrupt end.

    “If I go back, it’s uncertain whether I’ll be able to come back,” said Mohamed, who plans to focus his undergraduate studies on economics, government and Arabic. “I can’t go back until things become clear. I’m watching a lot of TV news, and I am worried. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

    For most of the five months he’s been in this country so far, Mohamed said he has felt welcomed and been appreciative of the “open-minded” atmosphere on the campus. Now, though, he finds himself wondering if he made the right decision to come to the United States for college, where the financial assistance and liberal arts offerings available to him were more appealing than elsewhere.

    “I am questioning it now, absolutely,” he said, “because I also got accepted to some universities in Canada.”

    At home, he lived with his 17 siblings — “a typical Somali family,” he said — in a middle-class neighborhood in the Somaliland section of the country, an autonomous, more prosperous region compared to the rest of Somalia. Since his father died in 2010, his older brothers have worked to support the family and help him and a sister and brother come to this country for college. He last visited home last summer, he said, and was planning to spend the upcoming summer there volunteering at a school for orphans, where he had worked previously.

    But now that he may not be able to get home, he doesn’t know how he’ll spend the summer. He’d like to get a job, he said, but isn’t sure whether his F1 student visa allows it. Since learning about the ban, Mohamed has talked to his mother and siblings over Skype to let them know about the situation, and checked in with friends from his country at other U.S. colleges.

    “I talked to a lot of them on the phone, and they’re all here,” and haven’t been detained at airports or blocked from re-entry after traveling abroad, as some others have, he said. “But I do know personally of one student who was accepted to a U.S. college for next year, and now can’t come.”

    Mohamed is one of 121 international students enrolled at Conn, including one other student from one of the seven affected countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Sudan. That student was not available to comment Monday. Deborah MacDonnell, Conn’s director of public relations, said the college has consulted with an immigration attorney.

    In a statement to the students, staff and faculty on Monday, Conn President Katherine Bergeron advised anyone from those nations not to travel outside the United States.

    Students who are planning international travel, or international students who have concerns about their visa status, were offered help from college administrators. In addition, Bergeron announced a series of group conversations and other events this week to address the immigration ban and refugee issues.

    “Our community of learning is immeasurably strengthened by the diversity of cultural, religious and political perspectives brought by our international students, staff and alumni,” Bergeron said. “These challenging times call for a recommitment to those values. We will continue to do everything we can to sustain the vibrancy and freedom of our educational community.”

    Similar messages were sent by President Susan Herbst of the University of Connecticut, where there are about 60 students from the affected countries, said Stephanie Reitz, a UConn spokeswoman. Most are graduate students from Iran, she said.

    “We’re not aware of anyone at this point who’s associated with UConn who’s been detained,” she said in an email message.

    Herbst said a working group has been formed to determine the implications of Trump’s order on UConn students and faculty from these countries, and to “offer them as much information and guidance as we are able to during this uncertain time.”

    While no students or faculty at Mitchell College in New London have been directly affected by the ban, said spokeswoman Colleen Gresh, the college is monitoring the situation. Likewise at the state college and university system, which includes Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic and Three Rivers Community College in Norwich.

    But in a statement Monday, Mark Ojakian, president of the state colleges and universities, went further than his counterparts at other institutions. He discouraged all undocumented immigrant students from any country, as well as students from the seven countries specified in the ban, from traveling out of the United States.

    He also emphasized the colleges’ continuing commitment to remain “open, inclusive and welcoming institutions for all students, faculty and staff,” and said immigration attorneys, the Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office have been consulted to understand the implications of the orders. Maribel La Luz, director of communications for Ojakian’s office, said his office is not aware of any students, staff or faculty members detained or directly impacted by the travel ban.

    Mohamed, for his part, said he’s found much support from the Conn community and has been heartened by the strong critical reaction to the ban manifest in protests around the country. The Muslim Student Association, of which he is a member, met over the weekend to plan response actions and offer support, he said.

    His nation and the other six targeted in the ban, he said, are all countries whose citizens represent a “very small threat” to this country, because no fatal terrorist acts have been committed in the United States by people from these nations, something that can’t be said of countries not on the list such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. While he doesn’t support a ban on these countries either, Mohamed believes the seven nations were chosen as a prop in a political maneuver because they are “small and weak.”

    Like other critics, Mohamed believes the ban will only harm U.S. relations with majority-Muslim countries, and could end up strengthening the terrorist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

    “It won’t help, that’s for sure,” he said. “ISIS actually welcomes these kinds of decisions, because it fuels their agenda.”

    j.benson@theday.com

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