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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

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New Trump immigration order grants Iraq a reprieve

President Donald Trump today dropped Iraq from a list of countries targeted in a controversial 27 January executive order on immigration. That proclamation caused chaos by blocking nationals of seven largely Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days, and indefinitely blocking Syrian refugees.

Today, Trump rescinded that order and replaced it with a 90-day ban, effective 16 March, on entry of nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The new executive order does not apply to those who currently hold a valid visa, or who held one at the time that the 27 January measure went into effect. It also exempts permanent residents, known as green card holders. It reduces the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees to a 120-day hiatus. And it drops preferential treatment for members of religious minorities fleeing persecution, which was widely read as favoring non-Muslims. 

“It is the president's solemn duty to protect the American people, and with this order President Trump is exercising his rightful authority to keep our people safe,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in announcing the order.

The academic community was not appeased by the changes. “During the 2015–16 school year, more than 15,450 students and over 2100 scholars from the six countries targeted in this ban studied and conducted research at U.S. universities,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in Washington, D.C., in a statement. “The pipeline of new students and scholars from those countries—many of whom are in the midst of the college application process—is now cut off.”

“The new order, like its predecessor, poses a fundamental long-term threat to America’s global leadership in higher education, research, and innovation,” added Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, also in Washington, D.C.

Wael Al-Delaimy, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Diego, who was born in Iraq, says that the exclusion of Iraqis from the new ban brings cold comfort. “It is the whole concept of barring people from traveling because of nationality and religion that is problematic, and this is still there in the new order,” he says. “I am concerned for the interest of other colleagues and for the freedom of science and research. Many scientists and academics will have their careers or plans disrupted.”