The American Physical Society Finally Speaks

The APS, my professional organization, has made some dunderheaded moves of late, but this is more encouraging. An email from the APS president and CEO, broadcast today to the membership at large, begins thusly:

We share the concerns expressed by many APS members about recent U.S. government actions that will harm the open environment that is essential for a successful global scientific enterprise. The recent executive order regarding immigration, and in particular, its implementation, would reduce participation of international scientists and students in U.S. research, industry, education, and conference activities, and sends a chilling message to scientists internationally.

The American Chemical Society had already spoken up:

While ACS understands the administration has communicated that the intent of the order is to prevent terrorists from entering the country, it feels that the order itself is overly broad in its reach, unfairly targets individuals from a handful of nations, ignores established mechanisms designed to achieve the ends sought by the order, and sets potential precedent for future executive orders.

The Society notes that reliable media sources are reporting that the executive order and its implementation have caused tremendous confusion both in the U.S. and worldwide, where individuals with valid green cards have been detained or otherwise prevented from completing previously approved travel to the U.S. Adding to the confusion are orders from several federal judges directing the administration to temporarily halt the travel ban.

And the American Mathematical Society:

For many years, mathematical sciences in the USA have profited enormously from unfettered contact with colleagues from all over the world. The United States has been a destination of choice for international students who wish to study mathematics; the US annually hosts hundreds of conferences attracting global participation. Our nation’s position of leadership in mathematics depends critically upon open scientific borders. By threatening these borders, the Executive Order will do irreparable damage to the mathematical enterprise of the United States.

We urge our colleagues to support efforts to maintain the international collegiality, openness, and exchange that strengthens the vitality of the mathematics community, to the benefit of everyone.

And the International Astronomical Union:

The IAU considers that mobility restrictions imposed by any country, similar to the ones recently included in the US executive order, run counter to its mission, which is inspired by the principles of the International Council for Science (ICSU) on the Freedom in the Conduct of Science. Such restrictions can have a direct impact on the astronomical communities of countries at both ends of the ban, as well as astronomy as a whole.

And the Association for Computing Machinery:

The open exchange of ideas and the freedom of thought and expression are central to the aims and goals of ACM. ACM supports the statute of International Council for Science in that the free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being. Such practice, in all its aspects, requires freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists. All individuals are entitled to participate in any ACM activity.

ACM urges the lifting of the visa suspension at or before the 90-day deadline so as not to curtail the studies or contributions of scientists and researchers.

And my alma mater MIT, in the person of its president, Rafael Reif:

The Executive Order on Friday appeared to me a stunning violation of our deepest American values, the values of a nation of immigrants: fairness, equality, openness, generosity, courage. The Statue of Liberty is the “Mother of Exiles”; how can we slam the door on desperate refugees? Religious liberty is a founding American value; how can our government discriminate against people of any religion? In a nation made rich by immigrants, why would we signal to the world that we no longer welcome new talent? In a nation of laws, how can we reject students and others who have established legal rights to be here? And if we accept this injustice, where will it end? Which group will be singled out for suspicion tomorrow?

On Sunday, many members of our campus community joined a protest in Boston to make plain their rejection of these policies and their support for our Muslim friends and colleagues. As an immigrant and the child of refugees, I join them, with deep feeling, in believing that the policies announced Friday tear at the very fabric of our society.

And the chancellor of my own current academic residence, UMass Boston:

These executive orders are very concerning, but as we have seen with the latest developments—court orders in New York and here in Boston blocking the implementation of the ban on immigration from seven particular countries—the policies they may usher in are far from settled.

I’m writing you today to make sure that you are aware that we are following these issues carefully and to remind you of our stand as a public research university—to protect and advocate for the most vulnerable to ensure all people have access to higher education. That means that the safety and academic success of each and every student is our number one priority.

As I stated in a communication to the campus community last month, this university supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and our undocumented immigrant students. I have signed a letter along with other higher education leaders calling for DACA’s preservation, enhancement, and expansion. We strongly uphold and advocate for the rights of international students and faculty and staff with legal status to be here to be allowed entry to the country to continue their education, research, and other work they do here. We will continue to hold firm on these positions.

EDIT TO ADD: A little while after posting this, I noticed this post by Terry Tao, which says in part as follows:

This is already affecting upcoming or ongoing mathematical conferences or programs in the US, with many international speakers (including those from countries not directly affected by the order) now cancelling their visit, either in protest or in concern about their ability to freely enter and leave the country. Even some conferences outside the US are affected, as some mathematicians currently in the US with a valid visa or even permanent residency are uncertain if they could ever return back to their place of work if they left the country to attend a meeting. In the slightly longer term, it is likely that the ability of elite US institutions to attract the best students and faculty will be seriously impacted. Again, the losses would be strongest regarding candidates that were nationals of the countries affected by the current executive order, but I fear that many other mathematicians from other countries would now be much more concerned about entering and living in the US than they would have previously.

It is still possible for this sort of long-term damage to the mathematical community (both within the US and abroad) to be reversed or at least contained, but at present there is a real risk of the damage becoming permanent. To prevent this, it seems insufficient for me for the current order to be rescinded, as desirable as that would be; some further legislative or judicial action would be needed to begin restoring enough trust in the stability of the US immigration and visa system that the international travel that is so necessary to modern mathematical research becomes “just” a bureaucratic headache again.