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Rally Supports Immigrants and Refugees

President’s executive order prompts protests at Johns Hopkins and other colleges and universities.

By Karen Nitkin

Date: 02/09/2017

Rally Supports Immigrants and Refugees

Photo courtesy of Kate Sachs.

About 200 students, staff members and faculty members, some carrying signs and some wearing down jackets over their white coats, gathered outside The Johns Hopkins Hospital in bitter cold and wind yesterday for a rally supporting immigrants and refugees.

A similar scene played out on the Homewood campus of The Johns Hopkins University and at colleges and universities across the United States. The nationwide event was in response to the Jan. 27 executive order from President Donald Trump, which suspended U.S. admission of refugees and of immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Last night, a federal appeals court maintained a subsequent freeze that was placed on the president’s order, allowing travel to continue for the present.

Earlier, at the event in front of the Armstrong Medical Education Building, several speakers told of their own experiences working alongside people of all ethnicities, religions and nationalities in labs, classrooms and clinics across Johns Hopkins.  

“Diversity gives us strength,” said Stanley Andrisse, postdoctoral fellow in pediatric endocrinology, speaking for himself and the Diversity Postdoctoral Alliance Committee he co-chairs. “It provides new thinking and new vantage points. If we start diminishing this diversity, science and society lose.”

Participants also spoke of their own concerns as immigrants and refugees. “There is a lot of enthusiasm because there is a lot of emotion involved,” said Shiva Razavi, who spearheaded organization of the rallies on the Johns Hopkins East Baltimore medical campus and The Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus. “There are lives that are falling apart.”

When she was 18, Razavi left her home and family in Iran to come to America as a refugee. She wanted to go to college, but she was born in a Baha’í family, and members of that minority religion are not allowed to pursue higher education in Iran. Razavi is now close to completing her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

As a U.S. citizen, she is not affected by the executive order, but she knows of many foreign students who worry that travel restrictions would make it difficult to see loved ones or even attend overseas conferences. Also, she said, the presidential action could harm refugees by making it harder for them to flee severe circumstances.

Ten days ago, Razavi pulled together a committee of 15 students, ranging from undergraduates to postdocs, to organize the event and invite speakers, including Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Johns Hopkins professors, who included Nobel Prize winner Peter Agre and Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean for public health practice and training at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Medical student Awa Sanneh volunteered to emcee. “I’m a black female Muslim immigrant,” said Sanneh, who is from Gambia. “It’s important for my voice to be heard and for me to support causes that stand up for minorities in this country.”

Frosh described the executive order as “unconstitutional, illegal and inhumane,” and said it makes America less competitive by limiting the nation’s ability to attract researchers from all over the world. Agre said “Johns Hopkins was an immigrant institution from the start” because one of its founding physicians, William Osler, was Canadian.

Also speaking: Meena Aladdin, a refugee from Iraq who came to the United States when she was 3 and is now an American citizen and doctoral candidate in the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Aladdin said her lab at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center has 11 researchers hailing from seven different countries. Though the executive order was “heart-wrenching,” she has been encouraged by the kindness she has experienced since then, even from strangers.

On Feb. 1, more than 60 national health care organizations issued a joint letter to President Trump, urging his administration to “consider the potential impact of the executive order on the health of the nation that will result from turning away patients, health professionals and researchers.”

A letter to colleagues from Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Ronald R. Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine, affirmed that Johns Hopkins “welcomes people from all countries and backgrounds.… Our core values of diversity, inclusion, collegiality and respect are the bedrock on which we forge our relationships with patients, their families, our students and each other.”