Message from President Daniels on the executive order on immigration

Posted in Messages

Dear Johns Hopkins Community,

Last Friday I watched and read the news of President Trump’s executive order on immigration as it unfolded not only in the media, at airports, and on city streets, but also in the emails, questions, and urgent requests for help that came in from members of the Johns Hopkins community. In the hours and days that followed, Johns Hopkins, like many others, sought to understand the substance and immediate ramifications of the order, and even several days later much remains uncertain about how the order is being applied and what it portends for the future.

Yet, one thing is clear: In barring entry or return to the United States by citizens of seven largely Muslim countries and refugees seeking escape from conflict and devastation, this executive order takes our country down the ominous path of erecting barriers not on the basis of a demonstrated security threat but on the basis of religion.

In this, the order stands in unambiguous opposition to our country’s long-cherished values and ideals. Openness, freedom of ideas, opportunity for the many, not the few. Values that lie, too, at the core of this country’s great universities.

The human impact of such an assault on these core values was immediate, including at Johns Hopkins. For our international patients who fear they may not be able to enter the United States for needed medical care at Johns Hopkins, or may have to make the journey alone, without the support of having family nearby. For the faculty member who was able to return to Johns Hopkins herself but faced the wrenching decision to leave her elderly Iranian parents behind, unexpectedly, after years of planning to be able to care for them here. For the PhD student met by a crowd of supportive demonstrators at Dulles airport, whose return to work was jeopardized despite his status as a green card holder, after visiting family in Iran.

I saw the pull and the power of our country’s celebrated values more than a year ago when I stood in the austere Baltimore field office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Born and raised in Canada, I was formally registering my kinship with the United States. As I took in the nervous and jubilant faces of people in the waiting room, hailing from every corner of the world, I found myself imagining that they would have the chance to flourish in this country, just as my family did when they journeyed to a new world almost 80 years ago.

Though many years have passed since my father, his two siblings, and his parents found safe harbor in Canada, the story of their odyssey is vivid and enduring for me. In March 1939, my father, then 7 years old, and his family came to Canada as Jewish refugees from Poland, only months before Hitler invaded the country and unleashed his Final Solution on 6 million European Jews. Even more remarkable than the timing of their departure was the fact that my family was able to secure a visa from the Canadian government. As historian Irving Abella has shown, Canada admitted fewer than 5,000 Jewish refugees during the period 1933 to 1945. As was true of so many Jewish families, including my wife Joanne’s, by the end of the Second World War, the entirety of my father’s extensive family in Europe was destroyed.

I offer this story today because it binds Joanne and me and our families to so many others who found refuge and opportunity in a new nation. So many who yearned for the chance to build lives of decency and meaning. So many who—despite the ignorance and fear they encountered as newcomers—went on to pursue education and contribute to the social, economic, intellectual, and cultural life of their adopted homelands.

No country is without serious blemish—neither my country of origin nor my adopted nation—but when I opted to become a citizen of the United States, I was proud to associate myself with its historic standing as a place that has given succor and opportunity to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

I am exactly one generation away from the boy who clamored for entry into a new country. And as my father’s son, I reflect often on the fortuitous trajectory that afforded me the opportunity to serve as president of this university—a university whose mission and excellence are predicated on welcoming and providing a home for people of diverse beliefs, ideas, and backgrounds.

In this historic moment, when universities such as ours find our fundamental mission imperiled by an executive order that erodes our core values and the founding principles of the nation, we cannot stand by. Rather, Johns Hopkins will strongly support the members of our community who need our direct assistance in the days and months ahead. We will debate and embody the values we hold dear on the page, in the classroom, and in the clinic. We will redouble our commitment to discovery, open inquiry, and impact on society, including the policy and practices that govern our lives.

To do less is to sacrifice the futures not only of countless individuals but of our nation and its great institutions.


Ronald J. Daniels