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Proposed Visa Ban MobilizesStudents

By Richa Maheshwari


When Ali Mostashari G was admitted to MIT, he couldn’t just send in his admissions reply. He, like other fellow Iranian students, had to undergo four to six weeks of background checks and travel to another country with an American Embassy to get his visa. Although some of his peers were not as lucky, he was fortunate enough to get a student visa. Today he is trying to ensure that others have the same opportunities that he did.

Mostashari, along with several organizations around campus, took action to oppose Section 306 of Senate Bill number S.1749, which states that visas will not be issued to aliens from a country that is deemed a “state sponsor of international terrorism” unless said alien is found to not be a threat “to the safety or national security of the United States” using guidelines to be established by the Secretary of State and Attorney General.

Groups ask Vest to take a stand

On Jan. 15, Nazbeh R. Taghizadeh ’02, president of the MIT Persian Students Association, wrote a letter to President Charles M. Vest about her concerns with the bill. On behalf of the club she stated that “we believe the proposed legislation will virtually stop the admission of students and scholars of Iranian descent into the United States and will make it practically impossible for us to visit our families and participate in conferences abroad.”

The Middle Eastern Club and the Social Justice Cooperative joined forces to address these issues and posted an online request to Vest to take a stand on this issue last Thursday. Within two days, over 400 MIT students signed the petition to show their opposition toward the bill, with many calling the measure an example of racial profiling. Many students encouraged MIT to take a stand against the bill as it did with the 6-month moratorium on visas that was suggested in September.

In response to the letter and petition, Vest wrote that “all our leading higher education associations have endorsed this compromise bill.” The Senate is expected to adopt this bill without amendment.

Student clubs voice opposition

“This bill makes everyone from certain nations guilty until proven innocent,” said Mehdi Yahyanejad G, president of the MIT Middle Eastern Club. “And how are people supposed to go about proving their innocence? The words right now are too vague, and our fear is that they will be abused.”

Mostashari agreed, arguing that politics was already interfering with science too much.

“It is unfair to have political intervention with scientists where communication is necessary,” Mostashari said. “Many people are already denied visas. New bills should be less restrictive as opposed to more.”

“There is no correlation between the people from these countries being responsible for international terrorism,” said Hazhir Rahmandad G, vice president of MIT Persian Students Association. “A bill like this could be counterproductive because right now students from Iran or other countries are educated here and can share the ideals of democracy with the nation they are from.”

MIT, students wait and see

Although MIT is not taking a stance opposing the bill, Vest wrote in his letter that “as the new statute is implemented, the national organizations that represent all universities and colleges will continue to seek and support implementation measures that will sustain the openness of our system for students and scholars engaged in legitimate study and research.”

Vest could not be reached for further comment on the issue.

“We were hoping that the administration would say that these students are important to us, and take a stand on this bill no matter how politically disadvantageous it is,” said Julia K. Steinberger G of the MIT Social Justice Cooperative. “But, it looks like the bill will pass. It is more important than people give it credit for. Universities are meant to be open places for communication through all countries and having restrictions is terrible.”

Since the bill relies on “standards developed by the Secretary of State” these standards must first be made. MIT students are now submitted to the fact that the bill will pass, and various organizations are discussing ways in which the implementation of the bill can be made us astringent as possible.

“We now want to learn how to cope with this legislation to ensure that it does not result in a lower number of student visas granted to students from these countries,” Rahmandad said.