Banafsheh Sadeghi was attending meetings in Singapore when events back home forced her to make a sudden decision.
Reports were leaking out last month that President Donald Trump was about to sign an executive order banning travel into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Sadeghi, a UC Davis assistant professor who’s an Iranian citizen, had planned to visit her mother in her home nation after leaving Singapore, but decided it was too risky. She has a son in Davis and was nervous she’d be blocked from seeing him for months.
Sadeghi jumped on a flight and landed at San Francisco International Airport around 7 p.m. Jan. 26, the day before Trump signed his order. One more day, and “I wouldn’t have been able to even board a plane here,” she said.
Sadeghi joined about 100 students and professors who stood in a driving rain Thursday in the quad next to UC Davis’ Memorial Union in a show of solidarity with those affected by the executive order.
“This is our hometown,” Davis Mayor Robb Davis told the crowd. “We are a place that welcomes.”
The number of foreign students at UC Davis has nearly tripled since 2012, according to figures released by the UC system. The university reported having 5,495 international students enrolled in fall 2016, accounting for almost 15 percent of the student body.
Sadeghi first arrived in Davis 15 years ago on a student visa and received her green card 10 years later. She is now an assistant professor in the school of medicine.
“Each person who comes here brings so much experience and perspective,” she said.
Citing national security concerns, Trump has moved to block travel from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days, halt the flow of refugees into the United States for 120 days and block Syrian refugees from coming here indefinitely. His executive order remained in limbo Thursday after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government’s request to toss out a ruling that halted the travel ban. The president responded that he will appeal.
Even with the travel ban lifted, the Sacramento region’s university campuses were on alert to help possibly affected students.
In a letter to students, faculty and staff last week, interim UC Davis Chancellor Ralph Hexter wrote that the campus has at least 53 students and 23 professors from Iran, four students and one professor from Iraq and three students from Libya. He added the university has “many students and scholars from other countries with large Muslim populations.”
“No matter where our community members come from or what religion they practice, UC Davis – in keeping with our country’s founding vision – welcomes and extends its respect to them,” Hexter wrote.
California State University, Sacramento, has 65 students from the seven nations included in the ban. Those students either have student visas or green cards, university spokeswoman Elisa Smith said.
Sacramento State has just over 1,000 students identified as nonresident aliens, according to data compiled by the California State University system. That represents about 3 percent of the campus population, but is nearly twice the number of international students the university enrolled just four years ago.
Smith said university officials were not aware of any Sacramento State student detained at airports due to Trump’s order. In a statement, the university said it was “in the process of reaching out to all (students from the seven Muslim countries) to make sure they are safe and accounted for, and we want to offer our support to them as members of the Hornet family.”
Ahlam Abdul-Rahman, who is studying for her master’s in English at Sacramento State, was born in the United States, shortly after her parents immigrated from Kuwait.
The order “makes us wonder if we would be in a situation that we would be targeted at any time that we least expect it, even as American citizens who were born and raised here,” she said.
Davis, a college town known for its progressive politics, has been the site of two incidents in recent days targeting Muslims.
Pork tenderloins were left last weekend on the doorstep of an apartment housing a Muslim resident. Last month, windowpanes were smashed, bicycle tires slashed and uncooked bacon was left on the door handle of the Davis Islamic Center. Islamic dietary law prohibits the consumption of pork.
Omar Abdel-Ghaffar, a fourth-year political science student at UC Davis and the external vice president of the campus’ Muslim Student Association, said “lots of educated people still have a huge amount of bigotry and xenophobia that we’re experiencing every day.”
“Oftentimes, people get caught up in the facade of open-mindedness of a college town,” he said, “and they neglect to see the xenophobia that exists.”