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Advice for Traveling to Academic Conferences Under Travel Ban

There are two academic conference seasons in the United States where a majority of “international” academic conferences are hosted: mid-fall and late winter/early Spring. This year it can be remembered as: before and after the travel ban affecting nationals from seven majority-Muslim countries was announced. The American Anthropological Association, the Women’s Studies Association and the International Conference on Arabic and Islamic Studies had their conferences in the fall. The American Sociological Association, the Cultural Studies Association and the National Council for Black Studies are upcoming.

protestors in Battery Park holding signs
NEW YORK CITY – JANUARY 29 2017: Thousands gathered in Battery Park to protest President Trump’s immigration ban. Photo credit: a katz/Shutterstock, Inc.

Everyone was caught off guard by the Executive Order announcing the travel ban – the TSA, the airlines and of course travelers themselves. But so too were various international academic associations that struggled to respond in a way that respected their principles, their membership, and their multi-year (and very expensive) business arrangements; many of the conference venues are selected three to five years in advance.

Although there have been calls to move conferences outside of the United States as a sign of protest as well to allow people from the seven banned countries to attend, such a decision brings other consequences: many members of these academic associations are already studying or teaching the United States – holding work visas or green cards – and thus would, potentially, be unable to return to the US. Other suggestions have been to alternate conferences locations: some to be held outside the US and others within sanctuary cities. Needless to there has been quite a bit of online, and offline, debate as thousands of people are suddenly unable, or unwilling, to make the trip into hostile territory in order to attend an academic conference.

Next week, the International Studies Association (ISA), which has 7000 members world wide, holds its 58th annual conference in Baltimore. Given the focus of the organization — international relations/global politics —  it should come as no surprise that over half of the attendees are coming from outside the United States, and many of those teaching and researching in the US are nationals of “banned countries.” Discussion has been heated and this week the ISA distributed the following suggestions, drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union, for people planning to travel to the United States. As many Praxis Center readers are involved in some way with academia, we wanted to share the material with you as well.

Dear ISA Convention Attendees,

In response to the recent travel ban and the concerns of the ISA membership, we have been in contact with the ACLU of Maryland.  They have passed along some great resources and suggestions for travelers to the U.S., and what to do/who to contact should you not be allowed to board your plane to the U.S., or if you are detained at BWI or other airports.

  • International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP): Know Your Rights.
    • IRAP: Know Your Rights packet
    • This includes the most recent temporary restraining order from the U.S. District Court of Washington that prevents Customs and Border Protection from denying entry to the United States if you have a valid visa to enter. The Ninth Circuit has continued to block enforcement of the Muslim ban, so anyone entering the U.S. with valid immigration documents should be able to enter. Customs and Border Protection is currently treating people entering the U.S. in accordance with the pre-executive order status quo.
    • Please be aware however, that the Trump Administration may appeal the 9th Circuit decision to the Supreme Court, or they may revise the current executive order seeking to withstand legal challenge. Your ability to travel to the U.S. might change significantly if the current executive order is revised. As explained in the IRAP Know Your Rights materials, it is recommended that you travel to the U.S. as soon as possible, while the temporary restraining order protects the pre-executive order status quo. If the executive order is revised, we will provide updated information on any travel restrictions.
  • ISA HQ will act as a liaison with the ACLU of Maryland prior to Friday, February 17 to help address any questions members may have.   They can compile more information specific to the kinds of questions being asked. Please contact Jennifer Fontanella at
  • Travel with the any/all of the following documents in hand. Show to any official if you feel your right to travel is being questioned.
    • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statement on compliance with the recent court order:
  • We recommend that you coordinate with either someone back at your home or a friend arriving in Baltimore to check in and confirm your safe arrival.
  • The ACLU is recommending that if anyone is nervous about being detained, complete a Dept of Homeland Security Form G-28 (Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative) which you can give to any official to show that you have representation. Links to help find immigration attorneys are listed below.


American Immigration Lawyers Association: Lawyer search

Immigration Legal Directory (available in multiple languages)

Immigration Advocates Network

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild’s online find-a-lawyer tool

National Immigrant Justice Center: Schedule a legal consultation by phone (312-660-1370) or email

The immigration courts’ list of lawyers and organizations that provide free legal services

Immigrant Legal Resource Center has a comprehensive online client intake form

As always, please feel free to contact ISA headquarters with any questions or concerns you may have.


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