President’s Letter: Panel on Immigration, Travel Ban, and Federal Executive Orders

Jennifer Tavares, CEcD, President and CEO

Tompkins Chamber Hosts Panel on Immigration, Travel Ban, and Federal Executive Orders and Impacts to Community

On Monday, March 6, 2017, the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce Government & Community Affairs Committee hosted a panel of representatives from local municipalities, higher education institutions, and the Ithaca/Tompkins Regional Airport, who discussed impacts of new Federal Executive orders on the Tompkins County community and its residents.

Brendan O’Brien, Director, International Students and Scholars Office at Cornell University, shared the impacts to students and faculty at Cornell. Mr. O’Brien indicated that while students from many countries named in the Executive Orders—such as Iran, Syria, Jordan, Somalia, and Iraq—have always had more trouble traveling than students from other countries, there was far greater concern and the issue has worsened significantly.

From the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport perspective, Airport Director Mike Hall shared both personal and administrative thoughts regarding the administration’s actions. “My father was an immigrant, and he was given the opportunity to receive a high school diploma and enter the military and serve his country,” said Hall. “I also have the perspective, as a military service person, that we must be compliant with laws. Much of this discussion is about tone.”

Ithaca College Assistant Provost and International Programs and Extended Studies representative Dr. Tanya Saunders also joined the panel. “The Executive Order runs counter to the goals of Ithaca College, which seeks to increase the number of international students we recruit to Ithaca,” said Dr. Saunders. Because of some outcomes of the orders and perceptions of immigrants, some staff members wonder “what happens when international students leave the relatively safe community of Tompkins County”.

Another Ithaca College staff member, Diana Dimitrova, Director of International Student and Scholar Services, indicated that counseling students regarding what to do about travel during spring break is difficult. “Some of the students impacted have never in their lives been out of this country,” shared Ms. Dimitrova. “They are Americans who have lived here their entire lives and just happen to have a passport from one of the banned countries.”

Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing also had a unique perspective, and offered clarity regarding the recent resolution passed by Tompkins County Legislators regarding the Executive Order and immigrant related travel ban. “Our department treats everyone equally and wouldn’t take a position regarding the Federal executive order policies,” stated Sheriff Lansing. “Our officers shall not inquire about the immigration status of a person unless directly related to a criminal investigation.”

The distinction for the County Sheriffs lies in what the county is obligated or compelled to do, vs. what lies within Federal jurisdiction. Immigration policy enforcement is one of those issues—the burden is on the Federal government to provide paperwork or proof that the individual at hand has violated a law or committed a crime, and is in violation of immigration laws.

Finally, City of Ithaca Councilman Seph Murtagh summarized the ordinance passed by the City of Ithaca, designating the municipality a sanctuary community. He spoke about the diversity of the Ithaca community and international origins of the community’s residents, in part because of the presence of local higher education instituions. The goal of the ordinance was to “reassure community members – residents – that they would be protected,” said Counciman Murtagh. Concerns about Federal funding remain, but the City will be working with Congressman Reed and other elected officials to understand and mitigate any actions by the administration to impact the City’s Federal funding.

The panel was facilitated by Gary Stewart, Vice Chair of Government & Community Relations for the Chamber, and Director of Community Relations for Cornell University. For more information about the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, visit the website at