Response from Dean Gillian Lester to Executive Order on Refugee and Immigration Policy

January 29, 2017

Dear members of the Columbia Law School community,

Earlier today, President Bollinger issued a statement objecting to President Trump’s executive order imposing a 90-day ban on the entry of all immigrant and nonimmigrant individuals from seven Muslim-majority nations into the United States. I write to express my emphatic agreement with his condemnation of this action as discriminatory, damaging to America’s leadership in higher education, and contrary to the core values of our nation and of our own Columbia Law School. 

We have longstanding and deep international roots here at the Law School, a quality that informs the very fabric of our learning and sustains the foundation of our global community of alumni, affiliates, and friends. We are passionately committed to cultivating, proactively and intentionally, an educational environment in which students and scholars from all parts of the country and the world learn from one another in a robust exchange. It is anathema to these values that any member of our community be subjected to fear, insecurity, or hostility on grounds of discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.

As noted in President Bollinger’s statement, the University is advising community members and visiting scholars from the designated countries to suspend plans for international travel.  Anyone seeking further guidance is urged to contact our International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). Here at the Law School, we are prepared to offer assistance to any of our students, staff, or alumni who may be affected by the ban. As always, Student Services and Graduate Legal Studies are available to speak with any student who would like to have someone to talk to, and to help make connections to additional resources as necessary.

Our faculty, staff, and students have been working externally, as well, as leaders in protecting the rights of immigrants. Prof. Elora Mukherjee, director of our Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, was counsel in the habeas lawsuit that led to yesterday’s injunction of the President’s executive order; Prof. Jason Parkin and our students in the immigration clinic have continued to provide vital services throughout the year; and countless others in our community have supported and lent their voices as advocates for equal protection and due process. 

The multinational character of Columbia Law School is not only important to me as dean; it is deeply significant to me as an immigrant. In 1991, I crossed our northern border on a student visa to study in the United States. It was my great privilege to be welcomed as a legal immigrant so that I could devote my professional career to the study and teaching of law here, in this country, a nation founded on democratic values and ideals of nondiscrimination. Throughout our long history, the presence, voice, and vibrant engagement of students and scholars from all parts of the world—from all religions, cultures, and ethnicities, and from within and without our national borders—have been critical aspects of our identity. I urge students, staff, faculty, alumni, and friends of Columbia Law School to stand stalwart and work together to preserve this cherished heritage. 


Gillian Lester