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Harvard president denounces Trump immigration policies in welcome e-mail to students

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s e-mail came after an incoming Palestinian freshman initially denied entry to the United States was allowed to come to Cambridge. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow denounced the Trump administration’s increasingly Draconian immigration restrictions as he welcomed students back to campus Tuesday, after an incoming Palestinian freshman initially denied entry to the United States was allowed to come to Cambridge.

In his first e-mail welcome message since his installation as president last October, Bacow contrasted Trump’s tightening of the nation’s borders with his mother and father’s experiences as World War II-era Jewish refugees.

“My parents, like most immigrants, loved this country in part because they had the experience of growing up someplace else,” he wrote.

“They appreciated its aspirations of freedom and opportunity for all, and never took these ideals for granted,” he continued. “But they were also not uncritical of their new home. They wanted it to be the very best place it could be, a goal to which we all should aspire.”


Bacow did not specifically mention Ismail Ajjawi, a 17-year-old Palestinian student who became a cause célèbre last week after the Harvard Crimson reported that he was denied entry to the United States at Logan International Airport despite having a valid student visa.

Instead, the university president spoke in general terms about “the obstacles facing individuals ensnared in the nation’s visa and immigration process.”

“Various international students and scholars eager to establish lives here on our campus find themselves the subject of scrutiny and suspicion in the name of national security,” he wrote, “and they are reconsidering the value of joining our community in the face of disruptions and delays.”

A Harvard spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that Ajjawi is on campus but could not confirm that he has begun classes.

Bacow, who also has written federal authorities and met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., to express concerns about delayed and denied student visas, is the son of Jewish immigrants who escaped the horrors of the Holocaust.


His father’s family fled anti-Jewish violence in Minsk before World War II and came to the United States. His mother arrived in Brooklyn at 19, having survived the Auschwitz concentration camp — the only Jew from her hometown to survive the war.

“My parents came to this country with literally nothing,” he told the Globe last year. “I wouldn’t be here if this country was not open to people like my parents at the time.”

In his e-mail, Bacow said turning away immigrants hamstrings academic and economic progress and makes the nation less competitive globally. Closing the country’s doors to the world not only compromises the ideals on which it was founded, he suggested, but sends a message that the American dream is off limits to those who aspire to it from afar.

Bacow also denounced immigration policy changes giving preference to those with higher levels of education and greater wealth. The Trump administration has argued that such policies help guarantee that more immigrants will be self-sufficient in the US.

“Not just as a university president, but as the son of refugees and as a citizen who deeply believes in the American dream, I am disheartened by aspects of the proposed new criteria for people seeking to enter our country.” he wrote. “They privilege those who are already educated, who already speak English, and who already have demonstrable skills.


“They fail to recognize others who yearn for a better future and who are willing to sacrifice and work hard to achieve it,” Bacow continued. “Had these same rules been in place when my parents each immigrated, I doubt they would have been admitted, and I would not be writing this message today.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.