UCSF Convenes Town Hall to Hear Concerns on Immigration Executive Order

By Dan Fost

Dan Lowenstein talks during UCSF’s immigration town hall on Feb. 3
UCSF Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Dan Lowenstein, MD, speaks during the immigration town hall event on Feb. 3. Photo by Noah Berger

While President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration faces legal challenges in the courts, UC San Francisco is offering members of the University community support wherever it’s needed, officials said at a town hall meeting on Feb. 3.

Framing the issue as one of principles rather than politics, UCSF Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Dan Lowenstein, MD, said that Trump’s order, restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, “is an egregious violation of the core values and principles of higher education, science and service.”

“We are committed to attaining a culture of One UCSF, a supportive environment where every individual is treated respectfully and fairly regardless of her or his religion or national origin,” Lowenstein said. “Because of this, our team has been working feverishly on this issue from the moment we heard about the ban [on Jan. 27], and we want you to know we are here to support all those affected by the order.”

About 60 UCSF students, trainees and employees are directly impacted by this order, including 41 students and scholars enrolled at UCSF from the seven countries identified in the order: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. UCSF also has 11 employees, mostly faculty, from the affected countries, and eight students and students and scholars from those countries have been issued documents to enter the U.S.

Joining Forces with Other Universities

Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, charged Lowenstein and Associate Chancellor Theresa O’Brien, PhD, with coordinating UCSF’s response to the order. Reaction from the UCSF administration has been swift and certain, with Hawgood issuing a statement condemning the order as “antithetical to our core values,” and joining with UC President Janet Napolitano and the chancellors of the nine other UC campuses in a statement opposing the order.

The University of California has joined with other universities and organizations in a letter being circulated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) urging the President to rescind this executive order and describing the negative impact it has on the scientific community.

Brian Groves speaks at UCSF’s town hall about immigration
Brian Groves, the director of UCSF’s International Students and Scholars Office, speaks at the town hall event about immigration. Photo by Noah Berger

UCSF is also working closely with the UC Office of Federal Government Relations in Washington, D.C., and is supporting legislation from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) that would rescind the executive order, S. 240 and HR 724.

The order was temporarily stayed by a judge in Washington state last week, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard argument on the order on Tuesday and is expected to rule soon.

While the fate of the order is debated in the judicial and legislative arenas, the University is issuing guidance to students, faculty, staff and other community members who may be affected by the ban, referring people to UCSF’s International Students and Scholars Office. The ISSO can help members of the University community potentially impacted by the executive order.

Brian Groves, director of the ISSO, told attendees at the town hall gathering that his office advises scholars and students from around the globe on visa matters pertaining to programs of study, research or work at UCSF, and serves as the University’s liaison to federal government agencies in all immigration matters affecting UCSF.

Taking Action as Individuals

Barbara French, vice chancellor of Strategic Communications and University Relations, which includes Government Relations, said the University is also monitoring other orders that may come out of Washington, D.C., and is committed to advocating on behalf of its diverse community of faculty, staff, students and patients.

“Yes, we are powerful. As the University of California, we are a significant force,” French said. “To be successful at the federal level, we must gain support from other districts across the country.”

Woman in audience listens to town hall speakers
UCSF students, faculty and staff attended the town hall meeting on immigration to hear from campus leadership and ask questions. Photo by Noah Berger

“As individuals, each one of us has the power to communicate and to join together,” she said. “It is a tenet of the University of California to become involved in public policy and work for policies that reflect your values.”

Several members of the University community addressed the town hall with their own concerns and ideas for action. More than 600 others watched the town hall that was live streamed.

Peter Ohara, PhD, a professor and vice chair in the Department of Anatomy, said he views the executive order on immigration as “the tip of the iceberg,” and fears what the Trump Administration has in store for undocumented immigrants. “Democracy is slowly eroding,” Ohara said to applause. “We can’t dismiss it as unimportant or not affecting us. It affects us.”

UC President Napolitano has been vocal in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, in which children born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrant parents have been allowed to stay. Napolitano hailed the program as having “helped nearly three-quarters of a million young immigrants, known as Dreamers, pursue a college education and launch meaningful careers,” noting that several thousand such students are enrolled in the UC system.

Members of the UCSF community who are undocumented are encouraged to seek guidance from Undocumented Student Support Services, a virtual resource center for current and prospective students, faculty, staff and allies.

Supporting One Another

Another town hall participant also wondered how to bring up difficult subjects in the workplace. French urged people to be sensitive to how others are feeling and not hesitate to show compassion for colleagues. “It is very appropriate on a human level to reach out to someone who may be impacted and share your support for them,” she said.

If you see intimidation, harassment or bigotry, French said, speak out against it.

Brian Groves, Dan Lowenstein and Barbara French listen to a speaker during UCSF’s immigration town hall
UCSF leadership that hosted the town hall included (from left) Brian Groves, director of UCSF’s International Students and Scholars Office; Dan Lowenstein, MD, executive vice chancellor and provost; and Barbara French, vice chancellor of Strategic Communications and University Relations. Photo by Noah Berger

Alejandra Rincón, PhD, assistant vice chancellor and chief of staff in UCSF’s Office of Diversity and Outreach (ODO), said the ODO has many resources, including unconscious bias training and help for undocumented immigrants.

Ellen Goldstein, from the UCSF Office of the Ombuds, said her office can serve as an “informal, neutral, off-the-record, confidential resource when you’re having difficulties,” whether with a question about immigration status or any other issue that may arise. Groves said the ISSO can also serve as a resource, particularly offering legal help.

Lowenstein urged the community to stay strong, and to “keep doing the excellent work that you do each and every day,” which gives UCSF its strength as an institution.

“Continue being kind to one another,” he said. “Our strength is in our community and our values – our words, our behavior, our actions and our support. Please remember that even during the most challenging times of our country’s history, there have always been those who inspire and lead, and demonstrate courage and vision to uphold what is right. The University of California is one of those leaders.”

For more campus news and resources, visit Pulse of UCSF.