By STEPHAN KOZUB
Mohammad Nejad, Ph.D., “could not have been happier in any other job” as an Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Gabelli School of Business.
“I love my work, my colleagues and the teaching philosophy we have at Fordham,” he said. “I’m not an easy professor based on what many students say, but this is because I love my students and want them to succeed and I think they know that.”
As a green card holder and dual citizen of Iran and Canada, Nejad lives in Westchester with his wife, a senior financial analyst who is also Iranian, and their son, who was born in the United States
His parents and in-laws live abroad and are all in their late sixties and seventies. They made arrangements to annually meet up with one another in countries such as Canada, Italy, Germany and Iran.
When Nejad and his wife first made plans a while back to visit his parents and in-laws in Canada this March, they did not anticipate the risk that they might not be let back into the United States.
On the day that President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration was issued, he received an email from the immigration attorney for Fordham University advising him not to travel abroad due to the risk of not being able to return for 90 days. Since then, there has been mixed information regarding whether green card holders and Canadian citizens are included in the travel ban.
An appeals court, however, recently denied Trump’s request to reinstate the order after it was blocked by a Federal District Court in Seattle, but the legal battle is expected to continue.
“My wife and I need to visit our parents and our son also needs to visit his grandparents and the changes may simply take that away from us,” he said. “Moreover, in the case of an emergency, we may need to travel abroad to be there for our parents.”
“I know that the story of the refugees is much more critical and I know for many it’s death and life, but I’m trying to highlight that the executive order does not just affect the lives of those people,” he explained. “It also affects the lives of people who are living and established here and are contributing to our society.”
Nejad is not the only faculty member in the Fordham community that feels that way. He is one of 57 academics at the university to sign the Academics Against Immigration Executive Order, a petition which at the time of publication had over 42,000 signatures, 62 of which were of Nobel Laureates and over 32,000 of which were of U.S. faculty members.
The growing number of signatures comes after Trump called James Robart of the Federal District Court of Seattle a “so-called judge” after blocking the order and over 100 companies have filed an amicus brief against the order.
“I think that this executive order is unconscionable, un-American and cuts at the heart of what America is, like so many of Trump’s executive orders,” said signatory Jason Morris, Ph.D., associate professor of biology.
While Morris said that he doubts the petition will have any impact on Trump himself, he believes that “members of his party still have respect for people with expertise.”
Kathryn Kueny, professor of theology, director of the Middle East Studies Program and director the Religious Studies Program, also signed the petition.
“As a scholar of Islam I believe this ban targets Islam and Muslims, and therefore is illegal and unethical,” she said in an email statement. She continued that the ban “demonizes Muslims and fans and inflames false and harmful beliefs about Islam,” “seeks to absolve us (in the US) from any responsibility to care for the victims” and “also serves to justify hate crimes, stereotyping, prejudice and the persecution of Muslim minority populations in the US.”
Robert Davis, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology, signed the petition and said “I was proud of [University President Rev. Joseph M.] McShane’s strong statement of opposition to the order and commitment to supporting our students who are affected, and proud, as well to see Fordham students among the demonstrators at Battery Park.”
For Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., CSJ, distinguished professor of theology, the ban is “morally repugnant.”
“It is prejudicial to people in need, and to people from Muslim countries,” she said. “Both are against everything I believe in.”
As a long time advocate of the DREAM Act, Johnson is particularly close to issues of immigration. “My religious commitment, my membership in a religious order, as well as my role as an academic, make me very interested in this issue,” she said.
She also quipped that “It occurred to me that one way to solve this problem of the seven nations whose citizens are now being kept out of our country is to have Trump build a Trump hotel in each one of those countries. If you notice, not one of them has a Trump hotel and I think that might solve it. Let him make a buck and he’ll let them in.”
Fawzia Mustafa, professor of English, comparative literature, African American and African studies, and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, also weighed in on the petition and the executive order.
“I signed the petition because we now live in a time when we do know that the recent executive order on Immigration barring entry to a host of people is unconstitutional,” she said. “We can’t beg ignorance, lack of precedent or exceptional circumstances that can in any way justify or explain away such an action on the part of the executive branch. It’s pure fear-mongering, xenophobia, racism and mean-spiritedness, not to mention plain wrong.”
While some signatories such as Terrence W. Tilley, the Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., professor of Catholic theology say that the petition is “a very small effort that is part of a series of protests,” he added that “We can offer moral support and by that I mean we are by trade concerned with the values inherent with public discourse and in personal action. So we play a small supporting role and a cheering section from the ivory tower.”
He also added a point of comparison to understand how the executive order affects people coming to this country.
“I also know of Americans who have been denied entry as academics into the United Kingdom, put on a plane, sent back here to get the proper paperwork done and after two weeks of struggle, were able to get back to the UK and resume their temporary positions in the UK,” he said. “These are people who, as they told me, had resources, had support groups, had at least money that they could get at so that it would not be a disaster. If it was a problem for middle class American academics, what of the poor and downtrodden whom the Statue of Liberty allegedly welcomes to this shore?”
For Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Ph.D., professor of theology, the executive order relates to her recent work on “the Sin of White Supremacy and the Christian ideology of superiority that has run throughout the history of the United States.”
“To me, this newest legislation is the next chapter in a long history of America’s ideology of White Christian supremacy,” she said in an email statement. “As a White Christian theologian, I need to do everything I can to oppose it.”
“My work over the last 20 years has been asking how we embrace America as a multi-religious nation,” she said. She added that “Our diversity is our strength for new perspectives on what it is to be human” and also “a theological strength for contemplating the mystery that Christians have named ‘God’.”
As more faculty members join these academics in signing the petition, the future remains uncertain for people like Nejad.
“Honestly I don’t know,” he said regarding what he intends to do moving forward. “We had plans in the very near future, which is our parents are traveling to Canada late February to early April and we were going to travel there and visit them. Now, I don’t know what to do about that.”
“In the longer term, I hope that this will be resolved because we are not in a situation to consider that we are not going to see our parents for the next few years,” he continued. “That’s not a choice for us.”