Archive | March 2017

A Special Edition: Coverage and Updates on the Immigration Ban

In this special edition, we discuss the impact and implications of the Executive Order on Immigration issued on January 27th 2017. A revised version of the order was issued by President Trump on March 6th 2017 that restricted the travel of immigrants and non-immigrants to the U.S. from six-countries. As of yesterday, March 15th 2017, Federal Judge Watson issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Trump Administration’s revised travel ban from taking effect today.

       Here we give you a glimpse of the direct impact on our community and implications for universities, academic exchange programs, and research faculties as well as larger issues of international conventions, constitutional law, values, and norms. The content and views in this newsletter by various writers and commenters are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Pennsylvania in its entirety. The stories and survey summaries are published unedited and each surveyor has commented on his/her personal capacity.

 Here is the complete Special Edition:  https://goo.gl/igFhQRScreen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.40.58 AM.png

This edition includes:

Executive Authority: What is it? https://goo.gl/MW51m0

President Trump Immigration Ban 101: https://goo.gl/YvqmmL

How does the Ban affect our Scientific Community? 

-Rabe’e Cheheltani’s Story: https://goo.gl/BjIrUa

-A Survey: https://goo.gl/VyqcIW

-Personal Stories: https://goo.gl/8eVaPL

How To Talk To Your Friends And Family About The Immigration Ban: https://goo.gl/vxvL2k

List of Resources at University of Pennsylvania: https://goo.gl/nXVOS9

Please do visit https://bpcnewsletter.wordpress.com/ for additional information or if you have any comments. The weblog does not represent the thoughts, intentions, or strategies of University of Pennsylvania. This forum is open to all members of the University of Pennsylvania and affiliated universities as well as scientific communities in and around Pennsylvania.

Sincerely,

Nehal R. Solanki Patel

Editor-in-Chief, Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC) Newsletter

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

bpc.newsletters@gmail.com

Executive Authority: What is it?

By Nehal R. Solanki-Patel

“Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”  

Article II of the Constitution and under section 212(f) of the 65-year-old provision of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) a and 8 U.S.C. 1182(f).

Executive orders are as old as the U.S. Constitution itself. In the past most orders have stemmed from acting Presidents’ desire to bypass Congress. Executive orders are intended to be rules clarifying how executive agencies ought to carry out Constitutional laws; however, they have been controversial in public opinion because they have allowed Presidents to make major decisions, even issue new laws, without Congressional consent in the past. It is also often condemned as it runs against the general logic of the Constitution— no one should have power to act unilaterally. If the order exceeds the bounds of Congressional law, the Congress has two options:

  1. Re-write or amend a previous law (the President has the right to veto the amendment).
  2. Orders can be challenged in federal court with the ground that it deviates from “Congressional Intent”.

TWO INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT EXECUTIVE AUTHORITY

According to State Laws, state governors, i.e. executive of their states, can also issue executive orders. For example, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Utah have issued executive state orders in the past.

Did you know Franklin D. Roosevelt issued 3728 executive orders in his 12 years in office? Woodrow Wilson with 1803 orders from 1913-1921. Next, Calvin Coolidge issued 1203 executive orders in his 5 years in the office. Here is a list of Presidents who have used authority to make changes in the History of Executive Orders:Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 9.55.13 AM.png

President Trump Immigration Ban 101

By Nehal R. Solanki Patel

On January 27th, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order 13769 under the authority granted by Article II of the constitution and under Section 212 (f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” No visas were issued for 90-days to migrants or visitors from seven majority Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Section 1 of the order states that it is a policy the United States to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, including those committed by foreign nationals.

       Executive Order 13769 went into effect immediately, reportedly without thorough vetting by the Department of Homeland Security. Many people who were in transit to the United States had their approved visas rejected at their departing airport or were detained by the TSA upon arrival. Many scientists were affected during this initial period, including several working here in Philadelphia (see https://goo.gl/QZ55wa, https://goo.gl/SgBn5W, and https://goo.gl/ALKy8N). Numerous federal court cases were filed to challenge the order’s legality, and on February 3rd, 2017 a federal judge in Seattle issued a nationwide restraining order stopping the order’s effects.

       On March 6th, 2017 President Trump signed a new Executive Order, 13780, which updated the Executive Order 13769. The new immigration order was scheduled to take effect after a 10-day delay on March 16th. The new order made several changes to the original travel ban, including the following:

  • Removes Iraq from the list of effected countries, leaving Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
  • Visa holders are no longer affected.
  • Syrian refugees are barred temporarily.
  • Refugees already granted asylum will be allowed.
  • References to support for the US Constitution and other beliefs removed. Details added about why the six countries were selected (see p.7).
  • Specifies that it does not affect foreign nationals with valid visas and refugees whose travel had already been scheduled with the State Department.
  • Authorizes consular officials to waive the travel restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 9.51.59 AM.png

         The new executive order restarts the 90-day suspension of entry for nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Several legal challenges are currently being organized to the new executive order including a temporary restraining order blocking Trump Administration’s revised travel ban from taking effect on March 16th 2017.

The following descriptions were issued:

Iran. Has been designated as concerned country for terrorism since 1984 and continues to support various groups, including Hizballah and Hamas. Iran has also been linked to al-Qa’ida and has not cooperated with the United States in counter-terrorism efforts.

Libya. Is an active combat zone, and has several hostilities between the internationally recognized government and its rivals. The United States Embassy in Libya suspended its operation in 2014.

Somalia. Has been a safe haven for terrorists. Al-Shaba’ab has operated in Somalia for several years and Somali government has cooperated with United States in the past, however, they do not have the capacity to investigate suspected terrorists.

Sudan. Has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism because of the support it has provided to Hizballah and Hamas since 1993. Sudan cooperates with the United States.

Syria. Has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1979. Although Syrian government is actively in conflict with ISIS, they support other terrorist organizations. Syria does not support United States counter-terrorism efforts.

Yemen. Has been exploited by Al-Qa’ida and ISIS. Yemen has been under several attacks and has served as a porous border to smuggle weapons to al-Qa’ida. Yemen has been supportive of the counterterrorism efforts by the United States.

      Besides causing the chaos in airports around the United States (see next page), President Trump’s immigration ban has created a lot of commotion in the scientific community. We held a survey (p. 10 and p.15) to hear from our research and medical community in the Philadelphia area in the month of February when the 90-day travel ban was first placed. Rabe’ (p. 9) and Fatemeh were able to comment on their personal stories and how they were impacted by the ban. The survey was conducted prior to the issue of the revised executive order (13780). However, as it stands, the new order will likely create significant difficulties for several BPP postdocs, as well as other scientists in Philadelphia (see https://goo.gl/xIMGkw). We also have a list of resources for you (p.22) along with an informative article on “How to talk to your Friends and Family about the Immigration Ban” by Sean McClory (p.18).


Rabe’e Cheheltani’s Story

Rabe’e moved from Iran to complete her PhD at Temple University before moving to Penn as a Postdoctoral Fellow. At Penn, Rabe’e worked in the department of Radiology developing gold nanoparticles for use in medical imaging and therapy. Gold increases the absorption of radiation in tissue, and so can be used to improve radiation therapy for cancer. Rabe’e developed a method to encapsulate gold in nanoparticles made from a biodegradable polymer, so these nanoparticles can be degraded and excreted after the radiation treatment. During her postdoc, Rabe’e was heavily involved in the Penn community and served as the Co-President of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council. She now works as a consultant for Boston Consulting Group.

Rabe’e has worked in the US for over seven years and recently became a permanent US resident (green card holder). The US only approves green cards for select immigrants, and Rabe’e was able to apply as being an advanced degree holder demonstrating exceptional ability in science. She would like non-immigrants to understand how painstaking the visa application process is for Iranian nationals. Iran does not have a US embassy, so visa applicants must first travel to another country to begin the application process. Visa approval –including student and tourist visas- often takes months for Iranian nationals, during which time the US State department conducts in-person interviews and background checks, . While Rabe’e’s own work has not been disrupted due to the executive order (the rule was initially applied to permanent residents, but the Department of Homeland Security reversed this position) she does have friends who have experienced problems, including being unable to start a new job.

Interviewer and writer: Sean McClory

A Survey: How does the Ban affect your science?

“It prohibits the US from being able to advance science, since we recruit the best of the best from around the world. Without these scientists, our science will suffer. From an even broader standpoint, though, no matter the profession of any of these people, they should not be banned from entering the US on the basis of their religion”.Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 9.46.14 AM.pngScreen Shot 2017-03-16 at 9.46.07 AM.pngScreen Shot 2017-03-16 at 9.45.58 AM.png

“Executive order on immigration ban is an unfair ban as many students and scientists come from all parts of the world including the banned nations. Science should never be politicized. On account of this ban, careers of students and other scientists having legal immigration visas and also those with permanent residency cards are in jeopardy. Investigators will hesitate to hire someone from these nations or continue their employment not because they are not qualified or skilled to do their jobs but because of their nationality. This is highly discriminatory and unhealthy for science. Science should be above religion and politics. I feel helpless and sad for my fellow scientist friends who are directly and indirectly affected by this atrocious and sinister act.”

“This Executive Order is a direct impediment to science and is bad for America. Many students, post-docs, and faculty are non-citizens whose ongoing work will likely suffer from their inability to return to the bench and/or from the heightened fear and anxiety that they may be effectively ejected from the country and the apprehension around what’s coming next. Will this administration stop with these seven Muslim majority countries (certainly awful enough) or expand these restrictions? Will we, the people who work with and care about non-citizens, be suddenly left with empty benches and untended cultures? Will any of us be able to participate in international conferences while this administration is installed? It is an outrage.”

“Inhibits scientific training, recruiting best and brightest and pushing scientific boundaries.”

“It causes excellent scientists to leave the country or stop coming to the country. Many people no longer want to live and work in the U.S. — visa-holders from the affected countries who no longer feel safe and secure in their status; immigrants from other countries who worry about future policy affecting their status; and U.S.-born U.S. citizens like me who are ashamed of their government’s actions and wish to live in a country that better reflects their values.”

“We will loose talent, we will lose ability to interact with the international community, and the psychological effects will reduce productivity. Students unable to return who are paid on grant, could also affect grant performance and so we will also loose grant money down the road.”

“It will impact science in several ways like impeding great scientist from these 7 countries to come to the USA, and increasing stress in international students studying in the USA because we are now afraid to go back home to visit and then not being allowed to come back in to finish our studies.”

“This Executive Order is a direct impediment to science and is bad for America. Many students, post-docs, and faculty are non-citizens whose ongoing work will likely suffer from their inability to return to the bench and/or from the heightened fear and anxiety that they may be effectively ejected from the country and the apprehension around what’s coming next. Will this administration stop with these seven Muslim majority countries (certainly awful enough) or expand these restrictions? Will we, the people who work with and care about non-citizens, be suddenly left with empty benches and untended cultures? Will any of us be able to participate in international conferences while this administration is installed? It is an outrage.”

“It’s absurd that a scientist from one of the countries above would not be able to travel to the U.S. Additionally, preventing refugees and immigrants from coming to this country takes away their ability to go into science in the U.S.”

“It is absolutely detrimental to the scientific community. Scientific research is a global community. Scientists travel the world to research at different institutions. This ban makes it difficult for some of the brightest minds in the world to come to the US to research and makes those who are already here scared to leave.”

“Very negatively: in obvious ways like obstructing the flow of researchers and ideas between arbitrary national borders, but also in more insidious ways by fostering an isolationist spirit within the scientific community where researchers’ work is dictated by who they _can_ collaborate with, not who they want to work with or who is best qualified.”

“I don’t think it’s particularly bad for science, but it’s just bad overall, and against the spirit of America.”

“Inhibits collaboration, directly affects labs, may affect US institutions important to science.”

“It is make an already jittery science community feel more under attack. Science research is a global enterprise and it affects our ability collaborate or have access to scientific experts across the world.”

“This ban is affecting science and American society by 1- preventing talented researcher to come to work in USA, 2- allowing racism and foreign fear to spread across the country”.

“Not only is it keeping promising scientists and clinicians from entering the US, other countries are beginning to boycott events in the US (ex: scientific conferences are being boycotted by many people from other countries because of the ban)”.

“Academia would be the one of the most critically and badly affected sectors because foreign immigrant scientists have been an essential soil for the great achievement.”

“This ban will prevent free exchange of knowledge and scientific training between the US and foreign countries. Exchange of knowledge and training is really important for scientific growth”.

“Inhibits scientific training, recruiting best and brightest and pushing scientific boundaries.”

How does this executive order affect science and policy according to you? Personal Stories.

SURVEY RESPONDENT: A student, a visa-holder

I first came to US 10 years ago as a young passionate student, who wanted to become a scientist. I had a single entry visa, which meant that if I left US, my re-entry and the continuation of my studies was uncertain. So, I stayed the entire 5 years of my PhD studies in US without being able to see my family. During this time I lost a family member, and I always regret not being able to see her for the last days of her life, and not even being able to attend her funeral. At that time, this affected me so deeply, and even caused me severe depression. I can understand first handedly how such an erratic decision could change the lives and affect the mental health of so many students and professionals working in US universities. I am sure they all have a deep passion that motivates them to endure the difficulties of being away from family, and seek education and growth. And they certainly do not deserve such a cruelty.

AN OPEN LETTER

Dear everyone,

Today I write to you with the hope that you understand why I think this ban will affect our scientific community.

       I have legally entered the United States, Europe, and other countries in the past. I was accepted in the postdoctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania. I study in the Biomedical Sciences field. I have always been in the top 1% of my classes in several competitions through out my scientific career. I am not a drain on any countries economy. In fact, I am an asset to them as a scientist. I pay taxes every year in the United States and consider myself a good Samaritan. I am not a threat to United States. I came here because I also wanted to pursue the “American Dream”. I am a person of good moral character. I have not committed any crimes. I have not been involved in the US criminal justice system in any capacity. I am disappointed. I already went through an extreme vetting process prior to entering the United States and all process was 100% legal. I do my science and hang out with American friends. I go for movies and live the American dream.

       Please permit the Irani doctor who has cancer patients relying on them into the United States. Please consider the six-year old child who went back to Iran from his chemotherapy regimen. Please let them in. Please let me stay and complete my training. Please consider permitting scientists to continue their research without being banned from meeting their loved ones in their original country. I do love America.

Respectfully,

Immigrant*

*The original message was modified by Editor-in-Chief to keep the contributor anonymous.

 SURVEY RESPONDENT: A passionate writer with a lot to say

President Trump’s executive order has nothing to do with science, nor does it have any systemic, adverse effect on scientific progression. In all seriousness, I’m fairly confident medical and technological research will continue to do just fine during this momentary travel ban. I will try to offer counter arguments to the mainstream objections in a way that will hopefully make the order seem more reasonable. In my opinion, the sole purpose of this action is to prevent potential terrorists from entering the US until a more effective screening process is implemented. Now, one of the objections to the order is that President Trump handpicked these countries in some fit of xenophobic rage. As surprisingly effective it would have been had that been the case, the countries listed were already hostile to our way of life and were pre-designated by the Obama administration to be dangerous. Let me be clear. Cultural norms such as honor killings, female genital mutilation, and Sharia law that are integral to these countries are despicable and should not be tolerated. Notice how many of this evil cultural components target women and when reading the order, it is these cruel practices that are explicitly stated in the order’s design to safeguard our country from. As a final point in this regard, it strikes me as very hypocritical for people espousing women rights to completely reject the ban in this sense. Relating back to science, the goal of trying to protect freedom of thought and ideas, something science relies heavily on, I feel perfectly aligns with scientific advancement. Maybe you disagree with the method or on the other side of the spectrum feel that the ban didn’t go far enough, if we can just accept this desire to defend our society, and then hopefully we can observe reduced confusion. Secondly, and perhaps the most virulent strain of objection, is the notion that President Trump is specifically banning Muslims, basically creating a religious test for immigrant entry. While it is true that the proportion of Muslims in these countries is vastly greater than any other religious identity, to be absolutely clear, nowhere in the order does it mention Muslims or Islam. Of course, everyone has the right to read deeper into the situation and infer that this order, at its core, is designed to discriminate against Muslims. Unfortunately, mind reading is not a sound basis for disagreement. The words in the executive order are the only thing that can and should be judged, and undeniably makes no claim to a religious test or ban. Additionally, had this in fact been a ban on Muslims, it would seem shocking that the countries with the highest Muslim population, Indonesia and India, were not placed on the list. Therefore, the travel ban must be rooted in nationality, specifically of countries that actively denounce American values, as its criteria. Relating back to science, it’s reasonable to me to want to ensure our scientific insights aren’t maliciously employed in the hands of terrorists. Bioterrorism should be a serious concern, given the current genetic technology, and from that angle, I personally am okay with poorly vetted people not gaining access to laboratories in the US. When families are separated or refugees forced to struggle, it paints a very harsh and unfair picture. And people have every right to express their opinions that this ban creates unnecessary stress, heartache, and an “immoral” America. Well, while I would be distraught too if my family or friends were denied a better life, I would also recognize that this is the reality of a world with a major terrorism issue…who am I to risk the lives of another citizen just because the immigrants in question are related to me? Only I know that they are innocent, peace-loving people and it would be disrespectful of me to denounce a country’s role or policy for vigorously protecting its citizens. It’s not about reducing our liberty for the sake of expanded governmental oversight; it’s about safeguarding our liberty from corrupt, inhuman ways of life. My family, as well as myself, would have to acknowledge this paramount duty of government and accept that while it may take longer, this is the best way to ensure everyone’s safety. There are more arguments against emotion that I could talk about, such as America’s role in foreign countries, issues with assimilation, resource availability as a function of population distribution, economic impacts, rights of non-citizens, and so on. All of these I think have relevance to the migrant crisis as a whole as well. Relating back to science, one can certainly make anecdotal cases about the effects on immigrant students or contributions of scientists from those countries. But I would remind everyone that it’s only a temporary ban, and again students and scientists should not be assumed to be innocent. Everyone from those countries has to be fair game within reason, unless of course we can start realistically profiling. Bottom line, the real enemy here is not Trump or the US government, but the opaqueness of intentions towards US citizens that surround those countries. From my own thoughts, until people seeking entry into our country can be properly screened, why is it so terrible to pause immigration from those nations as a preventive measure? It’s not a xenophobic or anything arbitrarily phobic crime to protect the freedom of our citizens from those that wish to do us harm. How is it against what we stand for to want to safeguard our people to the best of our abilities? In fact, that is the number one thing we stand for. America is a land that will more ferociously defend an individual’s right, whoever that person may be and whatever threat may arise, than any other place on Earth. Scientists should understand more than most this sovereign, constitutional right to defend us. In conclusion, everyone needs to realize that it’s not our responsibility to take care of everyone and acknowledge the disproportionately ill-willed people residing in those nations. A disturbing number of people suffer in those countries, absolutely, but it’s just not practical to expect to take in all the innocent ones and leave all the malicious. This is a horrible situation but something that seriously needs to be accepted. We need to take care of our country’s citizens and protect our values, such as free speech, first. This order in my opinion helps ensure we have a safe place to even do science and in no obvious way is detrimental to our continued efforts to unlock nature’s mysteries.

SURVEY RESPONDENT: See both sides.

I believe it hinders our ability to work collaboratively with brilliant minds from around the world. Science transcends nationality or religion, and it is the inherent differences in each person that allows for new views to be obtained on a subject. It also adds stress to those working in our field that are directly affected by the travel ban or have family members affected; knowing that it may be several months before you may see your wife and children again because they live in one of the “banned” areas adds tremendous stress and hinders productivity in our workplace. I also have previous colleagues that worked on the forensic cases pertaining to identifying remains of those lost in the 9/11 attacks. Some of these people were permanently impacted by those events, which lead them to strongly support this ban. These passionate feelings, which I can understand the foundations of both arguments, have lead to a strongly divided workplace during times.

 

How To Talk To Your Friends And Family About The Immigration Ban

By Sean McClory

When I first heard the news of the executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim majority countries I immediately felt sadness and anger. I felt sadness for the Somali undergrad I had mentored at Ohio State. I felt anger for the Iranian postdocs I worked with at Penn. In that initial moment, I did not feel sadness for the Syrian refugees dreaming of sleeping under a roof not destroyed by bombs or anger for the Iraqi interpreters who had risked their lives to work with American soldiers. I would feel for them later, when I had read their stories and thought carefully about the sweeping unfairness of the rule. But in that first moment, the people I felt for were those I knew, those I cared about, and those whom I knew worked incredibly hard every day to advance biomedical science in this country.

As a white, natural born, US citizen who grew up in the middle of Ohio, there were other people I thought about too in those first few moments. People who, while we politely avoid the subject around the Thanksgiving table, likely voted for a different presidential candidate than I did. People, who, despite our political differences, I love dearly. What would I say to those people next time I visited? Those people who had not spent their entire adult lives working with brilliant, dedicated scientists from around the world. Those people who did not did not understand how immigrants come to the United States to make discoveries that help cure cancer and treat diabetes.

As a scientist, I pride myself in being able to support my conclusions with evidence, and evidence abounds indicating that the recent executive order, as well as similarly restrictive immigration policy, will damage US science. Immigrants make up a large and growing share of the STEM workforce in the US. According to data from the American Community Survey in 2014 52% of biomedical scientists in the US were foreign born (https://goo.gl/TMrKU5). Those immigrant scientists have produced scientific advancements that have improved US health and the US economy. Since 2000, 35 percent of Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics and medicine awarded to US scientists went to immigrants in the US (https://goo.gl/6cnjVQ). The recent executive order directly impacts the productivity of scientist in the US from the seven targeted countries and indirectly impacts US immigrant scientists from other countries who now question the stability provided by their immigration status (https://goo.gl/XrGNBy, https://goo.gl/SgBn5W, & https://goo.gl/xIMGkw). Politicians should carefully weigh this data when considering changes to US immigration policy, particularly pertaining to student and guest worker visa programs. Biomedical research in the US relies on talented immigrants, and restricting the ability of US research institutions to recruit foreign talent will harm biomedical science, ultimately making the US less healthy and reducing economic growth.

Politics is not like science. In science, we rely on data and rational reasoning to come to conclusions. In politics, we more often rely on emotional judgements and intuitions. There are rational arguments in politics, seemingly reasoned debates for both sides of complex issues. But social scientists, such as Jonathan Haidt and Daniel Kahneman, have shown experimentally that when humans encounter an issue they make immediate emotional judgements, then use their rational reasoning, not to reassess their initial judgment, but to create carefully constructed arguments for why they were right in the first place. Even when presented with obvious counter-arguments refuting their emotional judgment and contrived justification, people far more often create new arguments to support their conclusion rather than reconsider their thinking. People do change their minds, and evidence and reason are useful in helping spur that change, but most often changing a mind requires connecting with the emotional center that made the judgement in the first place.

Here within the liberal bubble of Philadelphia, it is easy to misunderstand the beliefs of those across the political aisle. Those people I know and love certainly hold beliefs that are xenophobic, but not because they wish to be horrible, rather it is because they fear the potential of terrorist attacks. These fears are refutable with data on the demographics of actual terrorists – immigrants from the 6 named countries have not carried out a single fatal terrorist attack in the United States (https://goo.gl/ZYnaMI). However, this data will win no political debate. The horror of 9/11 and the toxic media environment that followed it has made terrorism a particularly salient fear for many Americans. Therefore, it is more effective to argue for the benefits of immigration that resonate with all Americans, and to argue against the consequences of the executive order that will harm institutions that are important to American life. And here is where you, us, the biomedical science community, have the ability to change people’s minds about this incredibly questionable policy.

US citizens of all political faiths support biomedical science, both rationally and emotionally. They support biomedical science because they have participated in a Komen run or autism walk where they celebrate the “heroes” that work every day to develop better treatments for breast cancer and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Or they support research because their loved one made it onto a clinical trial that ended up saving their life. In this era of rigid partisanship, the 21st Century Cures Act passed both houses of congress with 94% approval. We may not feel like “heroes” after re-probing that western blot for the third time, but the work we do as biomedical scientists is important, and it is important to people throughout this country.

The bipartisan support for biomedical science is an opportunity for us in the scientific community to influence public opinion. I urge all of you in the community to speak to your friends and family, particularly those who may be undecided about direction of US immigration policy. As scientists, you will want to make arguments that are fact based, but remember that those arguments also need to be emotionally convincing. Consider the following points when discussing the immigration ban:

  • Stay positive. Instead of refuting potential threats posed by terrorism, stress the contributions of immigrants, particularly to biomedical sciences.
  • Give personal examples of immigrant biomedical scientists. In this issue of the newsletter we present the stories of several Penn scientists who were directly impacted by the travel ban. No names are necessary, but say that you know researchers at Penn whose work to cure devastating diseases was hindered by the executive order.
  • Reassure them that scientists are thoroughly vetted before traveling to the United States. The visa approval process typically takes months during which applicants are subjected to background checks, biometric screening and personal interviews conducted by the US State Department. The slightest doubt raised during this process will result in a visa denial.
  • Consider how this ban might harm US citizens. Cancer kills nearly 600,000 people in the US every year, and nearly everyone knows a cancer victim. If we discourage talented foreign scientists from coming to the US, how many US citizens will die if it takes longer to find a cure?
  • All Americans disdain hard work being scuttled by the bureaucratic red tape. To the point that “the ban is only temporary”, consider that, both in academia and industry science, work needs to be done in a timely manner. In our interviews, we spoke to a professor who had offered a position to a foreign scientist, days before the executive order. The professor worried that if the long visa approval process could only begin in three months, she would miss her progress report goals and the entire project might be in jeopardy.

In our current political climate, debates often involve politicians speaking past one another, using arguments designed to activate the partisan base rather than to convince the other side. However, this issue is too important to divide us down the middle. After an incredibly contentious election it may be hard to consider bipartisan arguments. But biomedical science is a bipartisan issue – the diseases we fight to cure afflict us all, regardless of politics. Americans are divided on the immigration executive order, however, polling from Quinnipiac University suggest that support for the immigration ban has weakened since the rule went into effect (https://goo.gl/YG3rO5), suggesting that Americans are becoming less supportive as they learn of the rule’s collateral damage. This is a time when we have the ability to influence public opinion. By speaking out and emphasizing how the immigration executive order impacts issues important to all Americans, you can make a difference.