By Iris Samuels
February 19, 2017
Around 300 students at Princeton University gathered on Friday to contact their representatives, speaking up against President Donald Trump's efforts to enact a targeted travel ban for immigrants from seven countries.
The event, called an Immigration Day of Action, was organized by a coalition of more than 25 student groups, who collectively call themselves Princeton Advocates for Justice.
Diego Negron-Reichard, a junior from San Juan, Peurto Rico, is one of the organizers. He spent the day moving from table to table in the Frist Student Center, making sure that students knew the mailing addresses of their members of Congress and Senators. Students had the option of filling out postcards, writing letters or placing phone calls, using prepared scripts.
"I was in Montreal competing with the Model U.N. team when the executive order came out," Negron Reichard said. "I had the unfortunate experience of seeing a girl from another school break down because she couldn't go back to the U.S."
The initial executive order would have banned nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days.
However, the ban was put on hold by a federal court and President Trump is expected to issue a revised executive order on immigration next week.
Back on campus, Negron Reichard joined the efforts of other students, including Nicholas Wu, a junior from Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan.
"Given all the recent policies and actions that have been detrimental to basic human rights, we needed to act," Wu said. He wanted to accomplish something tangible, "rather than putting out some sort of pithy post on Facebook."
"We want to show people that although you may just be one person, your voice actually makes a huge difference," Wu added.
Princeton students reached out to students at other universities and encouraged them to host similar events on their campuses simultaneously. Around ten other universities held Days of Action, including the University of Chicago, University of Michigan and Vanderbilt.
The Princeton Advocates for Justice received funding from the university administration to host the event, and numerous staff and faculty members were in attendance. "I think they were very happy to see students doing something," Wu said.
Earlier in the week, Princeton University joined a court challenge to the immigration executive order. Together with 16 other universities, the University filed a brief in a civil action case against the executive order pursued by the attorney general of New York.
The brief stated that Princeton University "derives immeasurable benefit from the contributions of diverse students, faculty, and scholars from around the world." It goes on to say that the executive order poses "substantial impediments" to the University's ability to fulfill its educational mission.
Additionally, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber has taken the time to meet with students who come from one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries affected by the immigration ban, according to Yousef Elzalabany, a freshman from Allentown, Pennsylvania, whose family is originally from Egypt.
Elzalabany is the co-president of MASJID, which stands for Muslim Advocates for Social Justice and Dignity, one of the sponsoring organizations of Friday's event.
"There are actually quite a few students [at Princeton] from countries on the list," he said. The University has not released any information regarding students who may be affected by the ban.
Elzalabany added that Eisgruber also met with the Muslim community at large in early January, prior to the inauguration. Eisgruber "signaled his commitment to protecting the community as well as his appreciation for the vibrancy that the Muslim community has brought to campus," according to Elzabany.
In addition to the Day of Action, MASJID sponsored a student rally on Thursday together with the Princeton DREAM Team, an immigrants' rights organization. Students chanted, "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here" and "No human being is illegal."
"It's more important now than ever that we come together across faiths and backgrounds," Elzalabany said to a crowd of thirty students who attended the rally outside the Frist Student Center.
Students came to Friday's event for different reasons. For Zach Flamholz, a junior from Englewood, New Jersey, immigration is a personal matter. When the executive order came out, he thought about his Jewish ancestors, who came to America before the Second World War. "I have family members who were in Europe at the time, looking to get out," he said.
"It's easy to be angry and not do anything concrete," said Jillian Silbert, a junior from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who came to write letters to her representatives. "This is something to do."