Harvard President Bacow Joins Hundreds of Universities in Letters Supporting Immigration Rights


University President Lawrence S. Bacow joined hundreds of college and university presidents across the country in signing onto two letters urging legislators to provide permanent protections for undocumented immigrant students and those experiencing visa delays and uncertainty.

Harvard’s decision to sign these letters comes as Bacow has been particularly vocal in his opposition to Trump Administration immigration policies.

“By partnering with others, we join higher education’s collective voice in raising concerns about the current status of Dreamers and those caught up by delays in visa processing,” University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement.

More than 600 college and university presidents signed onto a letter Sept. 16 organized by the American Council of Education at Harvard’s request. The letter comes two years after President Trump threatened to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama Administration-era program that allows undocumented youth to live and work in the United States.


The letter calls on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to pass bipartisan legislation to protect DACA recipients — legislation that the presidents noted is popular among their constituents.

“We believe it is long overdue for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation, in both the House and Senate, to provide permanent protection for Dreamers—young, undocumented, high-achieving individuals brought to our country as children," the letter reads. “We understand the Supreme Court will soon be considering DACA. But regardless of the Court's decision, legislative action will remain necessary."

Separately, Bacow joined 42 Massachusetts college and university presidents in a letter addressed to members of the state’s congressional delegation pertaining to issues international students and scholars face, such as visa delays.

“In 2018, over 68,000 international students enrolled in Massachusetts colleges and universities, contributing over $3 billion to our economy,” the letter reads. “An environment that thwarts the opportunities for and contributions of these individuals is detrimental to the state’s economy, undermines the educational experiences of all Massachusetts college students, and stifles future innovation and business growth.”

The letter specifically addresses delays in visa processing, Optional Practical Training — which allows international students to apply to work for a United States employer in direct relation to their field of study, and requests for additional evidence when international employees seek to teach and work on campus.

Bacow raised similar issues in a July letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan in which he said he has a “deep concern” over current immigration policies.

In that letter, he pointed to visa delays, denials, and uncertainty for recipients of both DACA and Temporary Protected Status — a program offering legal protection to those who emigrate from countries plagued by natural disasters or violence.

More than a month after Bacow’s letter to the Cabinet members, Harvard student Ismail B. Ajjawi ’23 made international headlines when U.S. Customs and Border Protection denied his entry to the U.S.

Agents denied Ajjawi, a Palestinian resident of Lebanon, entry into the country after questioning him and looking through his phone and computer. Officials allegedly found anti-American social media posts made by his friends on his feed and then canceled Ajjawi’s visa and refused to let him into the country.

Bacow was directly involved in securing Ajjawi’s eventual travel to campus after he was denied entry into the country, according to Ajjawi’s lawyer. Ajjawi eventually arrived on campus 10 days after he planned, on Sept. 2.

Correction: Sept. 22, 2019

A previous verison of this article incorrectly attributed the statement "By partnering with others, we join higher education’s collective voice in raising concerns about the current status of Dreamers and those caught up by delays in visa processing" to President Lawrence S. Bacow. In fact, the statement comes from University spokesperson Jason A. Newton.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.