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Two Syrian students return to Howard Community College after immigration ban temporarily lifted

Two Howard Community College students from Syria were able to return to the U.S. on Sunday after a federal judge temporarily froze President Donald Trump's executive order banning entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The president's immigration ban suspended entry from citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for three months – including those on immigrant and non-immigrant visas – as well as all refugee resettlements for four months. On Friday, Judge James Robart temporarily froze enforcement of the order, which banned Syrian refugees indefinitely.

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At Howard Community College, sophomore Barah Alzalam, 19, said her mother and brother traveled to Saudi Arabia for three weeks to visit their father, who was having surgery over the winter break. Alzalam, a pre-pharmacy student, said she didn't join them because she was attending classes.

After weeks of stirring the boiling pot of debate over immigration policies, the Howard County Council this week neutered legislation that would have declared the county a "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants. The council, on a 3-2 vote, approved rules that prohibit police and county workers from enforcing immigration laws or asking people whether they are in the country legally.

The Syrian family was in the country on a visa, she said, as they all study at the community college and live in Columbia. Alzalam's brother is in his first year studying engineering and computer science, while her mother is taking English classes.

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Alzalam's family returned on Feb. 5 after a flight connection through Los Angeles to Baltimore–Washington International Airport. They tried to return a week prior, only to be denied boarding on their flight from Jeddah to Washington Dulles International Airport.

"I was just so patient," Alzalam said. "When I found out they couldn't come, it was so painful."

Three days after the executive order was signed, HCC president Kathleen Hetherington issued a campus-wide memo, asking students and staff impacted by the ban to inform the college's International Enrollment Office and human resources, respectively. Associate director Patty Bylsma, who works in the enrollment office, said 58 students enrolled in the spring semester are from countries identified in the executive order.

Capping weeks of contentious debate intensified by President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration, Howard County lawmakers voted 3-2 in favor of legislation to make the county a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants — without formally adopting the label of "sanctuary."

"We're very proud of the fact that we have over 1,000 students who are citizens of countries other than the U.S.," Bylsma said. "We have a very robust international population. … The atmosphere on the campus is one of concern. We are putting ourselves in a position to be of assistance to these students."

College spokeswoman Elizabeth Homan said teachers held the two students' seats until they returned.

Tim Zink, a press secretary in Sen. Ben Cardin's office, said they helped refugees who were affected and hope the ban is not reinstated.

"We're doing as much as we possibly can to make it clear just how repugnant we think the order is; not only on unethical grounds, but also the fact that it was poorly conceived and thought out in terms of its implementation," Zink said. "It's a horrific example of ineffectual rule making."



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