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Trump’s immigration ban triggers call for boycott of US conferences

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j610 (Published 03 February 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j610
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. Seattle

Nearly 6000 academics from across the world have signed a pledge1 to boycott conferences in the US to protest against president Donald Trump’s executive order2 banning citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the US for 90 days.

The boycotters said that the order “institutionalizes racism, and fosters an environment in which people racialized as Muslim are vulnerable to ongoing and intensifying acts of violence and hatred.” Those affected include students and academics who will no longer be able to travel to US conferences. The boycotters said, “We question the intellectual integrity of these spaces and the dialogues they are designed to encourage while Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded from them.”

Nadine El-Enany, a senior lecturer in law at Birkbeck College in London and one of the organizers of the boycott, told The BMJ: “Allowing scholarly business to go ahead as normal is unacceptable. The boycott of international academic conferences constitutes a show of public opposition, harnesses what little public standing academics have, gives people an avenue to concretely show their solidarity, and gives rise to other organizational possibilities.”

In another protest more than 27 000 academics, including 51 Nobel laureates, have signed a petition3 denouncing the order. They said that it discriminates against both immigrants and long time US residents solely on the basis of their country of origin. These are individuals who, the petitioners write, the “signatories are proud to call friends, colleagues, and members of their community.”

The petitioners warned that, by preventing researchers from these countries from working in the US, the order threatens to harm the quality of the nation’s academic institutions. “The academic community relies on these talented and creative individuals for their contributions,” the petitioners said.

In a letter4 to John F Kelly, the department of homeland security secretary, the chief executive of the American Medical Association, James L Madara, called on the agency to clarify the president’s order.

“While we understand the importance of a reliable system for vetting people from other nations entering the US, it is vitally important that this process does not impact patient access to timely medical treatment or restrict physicians and international medical graduates who have been granted visas to train, practice, or attend medical conferences,” the letter said.

The association noted that one out of every four US physicians is an international medical graduate, many of whom serve in low income and rural communities where patients rely on their care.

A joint statement from the Association of American Cancer Institutes, the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Society for Radiation Oncology, the American Society of Hematology, the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, and the LUNGevity Foundation warned that the ban would limit the exchange of “ideas, practices, and data” and potentially “retard scientific progress and adversely affect public health.”5 “Any loss of researchers and physicians will render the US less competitive, and our traditionally strong research institutions and the patients they serve will be negatively affected,” the statement said.

The order was interpreted by the department of homeland security to include holders of visas that were issued to individuals with special skills—such as physicians and scientists. Although these visa holders must already undergo extensive vetting and are considered legal residents of the US, the ruling meant that many doctors, researchers, and students with these visas traveling abroad have found themselves unable to return and those in the US have cancelled plans to travel.6

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