Nearly 15,000 academics, including several Nobel laureates, have signed a petition denouncing an executive order signed by President Donald Trump that bars people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the US.
Under the order, signed Friday, nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are prohibited from entering the US for at least 90 days, regardless of whether they have green cards or visas.
“We help ourselves by bringing people to our country and training them to be scientists and making America a haven for open thinking,” petition signatory and former National Institutes of Health Director Harold Varmus told STAT. “This is protection against a world that’s divided.”
The order is discriminatory, declares the petition, whose signatories include Nobel laureates Linda Buck of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Andrew Fire of Stanford University, and well-known Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker. Furthermore, it threatens to seriously damage the US’s status as a world leader in scientific research, which is built in large part on the labors of immigrants, the petitioners wrote.
“This measure is fatally disruptive to the lives of these immigrants, their families, and the communities of which they form an integral part,” the petition states. “It is inhumane, ineffective, and un-American.”
Meanwhile, the executive order has already had a chilling effect in academia. On Friday evening, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s international scholars department advised students from the seven affected nations to postpone any international travel for fear they might not be able to return to the US.
“While we do not know if official action will be taken and, if so, what that action will entail, we feel it is important to consider all appropriate precautions,” the email stated.
Hakim Djaballah, a biotech executive in New York, said he couldn’t understand how Trump could think it would be beneficial to cut off the exchange of ideas and leave researchers and scientists afraid to come and go for their work. Djaballah, who is originally from Algeria, collaborates often with the Pasteur Institute of Iran, but said he worries the order will sever those ties and impede scientific progress.
“If he’s truly a businessman and an executive, you think he’d understand the diversity of the scientific community, which ends up feeding into the rest of the economy in the US,” Djaballah said. “Diversity is a key element to that. I really don’t know what he’s thinking.”
For Samira Asgari, a postdoctoral fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, those fears became real on Saturday. Asgari was slated to fly to Boston to join Dr. Soumya Raychaudhuri’s lab at the Broad Institute. But she was denied boarding at the airport due to her Iranian nationality, Asgari said on Twitter.
I was pretty excited to join @soumya_boston's lab but denied boarding due to my Iranian nationality. Feeling safer?
— Samira Asgari (@samsam_86) January 28, 2017
Iranian scientist Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi is in a similar situation, as his visa was suspended days before he was to fly to the US for a research fellowship at Harvard, the New York Times reported.
Iran is a particularly fertile ground for promising academics, and more than 3,000 students from the country have received PhDs at American universities over the past three years, according to the petitioners.
Meghana Keshavan contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to reflect the number of people who have signed the petition.