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Pittsburgh-area universities reach out to international students, staff in wake of Trump travel ban

| Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, 3:06 p.m.
Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh talks at a news conference on the Oakland campus on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015. Suresh on Jan. 1, 2018, will become president of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Tribune-Review
Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh talks at a news conference on the Oakland campus on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015. Suresh on Jan. 1, 2018, will become president of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh arrives at a groundbreaking ceremony Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, on the CMU campus in Oakland.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh arrives at a groundbreaking ceremony Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, on the CMU campus in Oakland.
Tom Severin (left), of Connellsville, a member of Pax Christi Greensburg, holds a sign showing support for immigrants and refugees with Greensburg-Salem students Sean Barill, and Megan Lewis, outside of the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg, Pa. on Monday Jan. 30, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Tom Severin (left), of Connellsville, a member of Pax Christi Greensburg, holds a sign showing support for immigrants and refugees with Greensburg-Salem students Sean Barill, and Megan Lewis, outside of the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg, Pa. on Monday Jan. 30, 2017.

Some of the region's and state's largest universities have condemned President Trump's ban on admitting visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries and reached out to international students and staff.

The heads of the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne and Penn State all put out statements over the weekend affirming support for their international students.

Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh on Monday emphasized his experience as an immigrant — and industrialist Andrew Carnegie's past as an immigrant from Scotland — in a statement to faculty, staff and students.

“Tens of thousands of foreign-born students, researchers, scholars, innovators and faculty members across the country, including many at CMU, do pioneering work at the cutting-edge of science, technology and artistic creativity,” Suresh wrote. “The point is clear: our very prosperity and security as a nation, and thus our freedom, depend in part on the people who come to this country from around the world.”

Trump on Friday issued an executive order banning entry of travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syrian and Yemen pending at least a 90-day review of “vetting” procedures. It led some travelers with previously approved visas and green cards to be held at airports or even sent back.

“Nobody's really sure why they were turning back lawful permanent residents,” said Mark Harley, an immigration attorney based in Pittsburgh's South Hills.

His firm has received at least a dozen calls and emails from clients with ties to the seven countries in the travel ban, as well as resettled refugees seeking green cards.

“There are a lot of problems we are still trying to decipher, along with the judicial orders,” Harley continued. “The fact that it came through on a weekend was ridiculous. Most people weren't in their offices, so they couldn't effectively deal with it.”

Monroeville immigration attorney Adam Greenberg, who specializes in visa law, said he's had an uptick in calls from people “who are confused what happened” and concerned over what the rules mean for them and loved ones living abroad.

“The latitude for interpretation left a lot of people in limbo,” Greenberg said. “The biggest group that's probably going to be impacted immediately, at least from the travel-ban perspective, is the students.”

Carnegie Mellon sent a cautionary email to students born in or citizens of the seven countries.

“We advise that you not depart the U.S. while this order is in effect,” Linda Gentile, director of the university's Office of International Education, wrote in the message sent out Saturday.

The Institute for International Education tallied about 1.04 million students from foreign countries in American colleges and universities in the 2015-2016 school year, of which 17,354, or about 1.7 percent, came from countries affected by the ban.

La Roche College student Mustafa Muzafar, 29, of Oakland, said he'd come to the United States from Syria, spent a year studying English and then two more studying political science at the small Catholic college in the North Hills. Now he faces having to leave because his visa has expired, uncertain whether he'd be allowed back to finish his studies.

“I was going to work with my family to bring my cousin here, too, but now I think there's no way,” Muzafar said. “I was just trying to complete my life, to be normal.”

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher told the school community in a statement that he is “deeply troubled by this executive action” and called for “sensible immigration policy” that won't do “profound harm to our nation's system of higher education.”

Duquesne University President Ken Gormley called for policy “that is not based upon fear or hate, does not discriminate and does not cause harm to individuals, families or employers.”

Brother Norman Hipps, president of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, pointed to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, which opposed the travel ban , and said the country had “a moral obligation” to help migrants and refugees.

Harley said his firm is telling all student-clients: “Keep your student status. Don't do anything to jeopardize that, and don't go back or go outside the United States, even to Canada.”

Natasha Lindstrom contributed.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

Read the presidents' statements on Trump's immigration order:

Statement from CMU President Subra Suresh

Statement from Duquesne President Ken Gormley

Statement from Penn State President Eric Barron

Statement from Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher

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