THE ISSUE: President Trump’s suspension of travel for immigrants from several Middle Eastern nations. LOCAL IMPACT: The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Southeast Arkansas College and the Jefferson Regional Medical Center, which admit foreign students and employ a number of foreign employees, respectively, are monitoring the situation to see what, if any effect it will have on them.
Representatives of three Jefferson County institutions are monitoring President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily suspending all immigration for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days.
Trump has defended his order by saying it is not a “Muslim ban.”
The order barred U.S. border agents from removing anyone who arrived in the United States with a valid visa from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. It also covered anyone with an approved refugee application.
Jefferson Regional Medical Center Interim CEO Brian Thomas released a statement saying the hospital would not likely “feel any significant effect from the temporary ban, based on what we know so far about the process. JRMC does engage resources whose origins are outside the United States.
“Most of these are physicians, as well as specifically trained clinical professionals, such as [registered nurses]. However, most of our recruiting efforts that involve immigration are handled so far in advance, we would not anticipate any impact from the new Administration’s Executive Orders.”
Thomas continued: “The good news is that skilled workers seeking roles as [medical doctors and registered nurses] are among those that are able to demonstrate clear need and purpose for coming to the U.S. There is the possibility that documented workers already here could experience challenges traveling to/from their home countries to visit family. However, at this time, we have no knowledge of any such situations.”
U.S. Rep. French Hill says that while additional scrutiny during a 90-day ban on immigrants is reasonable, its design and implementation “appear unreasonable” and have unintended consequences for law-abiding citizens of the United States and other countries.
Hill said it was not acceptable for the nation to block green-card holders and those who aided the United States in a war on terrorism. He also said the nation should not block students and professors holding proper visas.
Hill, a Republican who represents central Arkansas, also said the administration’s decision to grant waivers that would let green-card holders avoid the travel ban is a sign Trump will work with Congress to make sure no one is unduly harmed. He said he would work to develop policies to let refugees in while also providing the necessary security for the country.
Southeast Arkansas College President Stephen Hilterbran took a nuanced view on the executive order. SEARK College has one international student from Vietnam. But Hilterbran knows of professors from other nations.
“I think no one wants terrorists to be admitted into the country,” Hilterbran, who has a doctorate degree, said. “That’s obvious. But you do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
“We have staff and students who have relatives in some of those countries. Doing a stronger vetting to bring people in the country is one thing. But to paint a lot of people with a broad brush seems to be not thought-out well or possibly implemented before the nuts and bolts are put into place.”
Hilterbran continued: “My son-in-law is from Pakistan. He has been in the United States for 20-some-odd years. He is an American. He was in London taking care of his sister. We were concerned about his return to the United States. We received calls to see if he was stuck in England. Some of our other family thought he might be trapped.
“Obviously we all support the president of the United States. It is hard to put these plans in place. And I think that is what everyone’s concern would be.”
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff spokeswoman Tisha Arnold said the campus is assessing whether there will be any impact to its faculty, staff or students.
Meanwhile, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas’ main campus says Trump’s immigration restrictions will impact students and scholars within the school community.
UA Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz said Monday that his campus has more than 100 people from countries covered by Trump’s order who hold visas to study, visit and work in the United States. He said the university was seeking guidance on the impact of Trump’s executive order and seeking a quick resolution.
Arkansas’ U.S. senators, both of whom are Republicans, are not criticizing Trump’s immigration restrictions as protests spread throughout the country, including in Little Rock.
Republican Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton issued statements Sunday regarding Trump’s executive order. Cotton said it is “simply wrong” to describe the ban as a religious test, but he said there should be “proper procedures” for green-card holders and immigrants who have served alongside American troops to enter the country.
Boozman says he supports “reasonable measures” to vet immigrants coming into the United States and that he looks forward to working with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to develop a plan.
On Sunday, hundreds of people rallied at the State Capitol in Little Rock to protest the executive order.
The Department of Homeland Security said Sunday the court ruling would not affect the overall implementation of the White House order. In Iraq, two lawmakers there said the Iraqi parliament has approved a “reciprocity measure” restricting the entry of Americans into Iraq.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.