By James N. Arvo
CCC Journalism Program
BLACKWOOD – Fanta Barry is an international student from Mali, West Africa. The 21-year-old engineering science and mathematics double major is set to graduate from Camden County College in May this year. But instead of her being excited about the fact that she is graduating after two years of hard work in college, she is rather worried about her future in the United States because of the current spate of immigration orders signed by President Donald Trump.
Trump signed an executive order in January banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States and suspended admission for almost all refugees for 120 days, a situation that caused confusion and triggered protests at airports across the country.
“I am still not sure if I will be able to take advantage of the Optional Practical Training or not,” Barry said, with a look of despair on her face. The OPT provides work authorization to foreign students after graduation. Fanta explained the OPT offers her and many other international students an opportunity to get a year-long hands-on training at a job related to their course of study.
She said whatever money she would be able to save during the OPT period would go a long way to ease the financial burden involved in college education from the shoulders of her parents, who go through the trouble of exchanging more than 600 Malian CFA Francs to get one American dollar to send to her for tuition fees. Additionally, the program helps international students to work to earn money in preparation for their next level of education and helps them to build their resumes.
Barry is on a five-year student visa from 2014. Yet, she explained, “even if you have five years’ visa and your I-20 expires or you are no longer in school, your status is messed up.” This is exactly the situation she’ll find herself in when she graduates at the end of the spring semester and contemplates undertaking an OPT.
Another Malian student, Adam Soumare, expressed worry about the fact that she is a Muslim and wears the hijab to school every day. “I saw on my Instagram page a Muslim girl who was attacked in another school by a guy and I’m literally scared whenever I’m outside,” she said. Soumare was concerned about her future in the country, both now and after her education, because of her religion and her ethnicity.
English as a second language student Paula Cordova has just spent nine months in the country from Mexico and wants to pursue a college degree in photography. She gets worried that Trump has branded all Mexicans as bad people. “America is already great and I hope the president softens his stands on my people,” she said.
International Student Services Director at Camden County College Lani Nguyen said the immigration issue was a difficult one. She said CCC has more than 200 international students and following Trump’s immigration orders, the college organized two immigration workshops on the Blackwood and Camden campuses on Feb. 8 and 16 respectively to allay the fears of students.
“If any international student who holds a lawful F-1 visa stays in school without engaging in any criminal or illegal activity, they have nothing to worry about,” she explained. She, however, wouldn’t speak to specific concerns raised by international students such as Barry, Soumare and Cordova except to say they have nothing to worry about.