Salomón Nahmad, a social anthropologist from Mexico, was planning to present two papers at a conference in Santa Fe later this month. A 40-year-member of the Society of Applied Anthropology, he said this week that he had canceled his plane ticket and his hotel reservation because he is deeply disenchanted with the new U.S. government.
Nahmad, a former Fulbright scholar at Texas Tech and the University of Arizona, is the recipient of the society’s Malinowski Award and had registered in December for its annual meeting.
But Nahmad, who was born in Mexico to a father whose family emigrated there from Syria and whose mother came there as a child from Egypt, said he no longer plans to make the trip to Santa Fe, as a protest against President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, such as an executive order that banned visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria.
Nahmad, who is affiliated with Mexico’s Center for Advanced Study and Research in Social Anthropology, is one of at least a handful of foreign visitors whose plans to come to Santa Fe either have been thwarted because of confusion surrounding U.S. travel restrictions or put off by the recent shift in White House politics.
Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, an international firm that forecasts travel trends, told The New York Times last week that he expects the U.S. to see a decline in foreign tourism over the next two years because of reactions to Trump’s words and actions, such as pledges to pull out of international trade agreements.
New York City officials said recently that the city expects 300,000 fewer foreign visitors this year, but Randy Randall, director of Tourism Santa Fe, the city’s tourism division, doesn’t expect a big impact here because only about 100,000 visitors out of a total of 1.2 million are from foreign countries.
“Most of our visitors are domestic,” he said.
Randall pointed out that Santa Fe gets very little business from countries specifically mentioned in Trump’s executive order, but he said he hoped the revised version would “hopefully be a little better thought out.”
Last month, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling temporarily halting implementation of the travel ban. The White House was expected to sign a revised version of the order, but that action was delayed after the president’s address to Congress. The new travel ban is expected to exempt legal permanent residents and existing visa holders.
Despite the confusion that occurred at U.S. airports, where many visitors were delayed or barred from entering the country, there have been only a few reported problems in Santa Fe, which hosts hundreds of academics, scientists, doctors and artists from abroad every year.
Representatives of The Santa Fe Opera, the Lannan Foundation and the Chamber Music Festival all said last week that they had yet to encounter any glitches with visiting singers and musicians. Daniel Zillmann, spokesman for the opera, said seven of eight visas for artists had been approved, and the company has no contracts with anyone from the seven countries directly impacted by the ban. Depending on the “future iteration” of the executive order, “we’re not sure if it will affect us at all,” he said.
Steven Ovitsky, director of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, said the organization started the entry process months prior to the executive order, and all the artists scheduled to perform here this summer who don’t have American agents have received visas.
The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market annually runs into visa problems with artists and entertainers, and sometimes they don’t make it to the U.S. But in the case of artists, it has volunteers standing by to sell their work so they don’t lose the income, said Jeff Snell, CEO of the International Folk Art Alliance, which presents the summer event.
“It’s always been a miracle that we bring annually to Santa Fe about 150 artists from 60 countries,” he said. “Current issues just magnify our challenges. We work closely with the State Department and visa experts. Coupled with our impeccable track record, we’re hopeful that this year will be another success. That said, we have asked artists to start early with paperwork.”
Council on International Relations Director Sandy Campbell said one visitor from Sudan was removed from a delegation of educators coming to Santa Fe as part of the State Department’s international visitors program. He said he didn’t know whether the ban would affect two people from Libya and one from Iraq who are part of another delegation expected here in April.
The CIR also is concerned about the future of its contract with the State Department to host international visitors because of anticipated departmental budget cuts. “It’s too early to know,” Campbell said, “but these are difficult times.”
The Santa Fe Institute, which hosts numerous scientists and their families from abroad, has run into just a few bumps so far. One seems to have been resolved. Dr. Keyan Ghazi-Zahedi, a scientist with the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, is scheduled to arrive in Santa Fe in April with his wife and child. Ghazi-Zahedi is a German citizen, and his visa was approved in January. But his father, also a German citizen, was born in Iran, making Ghazi-Zahedi also an Iranian citizen. Iran is one of the seven countries named in the travel ban.
Ghazi-Zahedi intially told the institute that he thought he would be denied entry into the U.S. and was prepared to cancel his trip. But he said last month that German border officials had told him that if he traveled with a German passport, he should “not have any issue.”
Meanwhile, Leila Niamir, an Iranian researcher living and working in The Netherlands, decided to withdraw her application for a summer program because, she said, “I did not feel welcomed to the United States.”
Another Iranian student, Kayhan Momeni, asked if she could participate in the institute’s 2017 Research Experiences for Undergraduates program online because of U.S. foreign politics.
David Krakauer, president and the William H. Miller professor of complex systems at the Santa Fe Institute, issued a statement on the travel ban early last month, calling it a “dangerous and simplistic step that ignores the complexity of our networked world.”
In the complex world we live in, he wrote, “cooperation, collaboration, discussion, evidence, and diversity become the pillars upon which we build society. The free exchange of ideas, the rigorous pursuit of knowledge, and the maturity that comes with abandoning simplicity, ideology, and prejudice lead us toward a better world for everyone. This is the wish of all of our political parties.
“In recent weeks we have seen complexity cast aside, and national and economic simplicity pursued without debate, with scant consideration for the human and institutional repercussions that this will produce.”
He urged, “Let’s face up to truly threatening challenges, and come together to solve the hardest problems that endanger the Earth itself: economic inequality, market catastrophes, antibiotic resistance, spiraling technological instabilities, cascading conflicts, and the numerous challenges of global population, energy, and climate.”
For Nahmad, the social anthropologist, the reasons for canceling his trip to Santa Fe are both deeply personal and global. “First,” he said, is “because I am Mexican and your immigration policy is very racist and discriminates against millions of Mexicans who work throughout the United States, and most of all against thousands of indigenous Mexican migrants who are the true citizens of the American continent — all the rest of us are immigrants.”
Secondly, he pointed out that his parents were born in the Middle East, and “since immigration persecution also has a religious and ethnic component, I consider it to be an aberration that the United States, as a defender of human rights, should today become a county in which the citizens of countries such as Syria are persecuted. I register my most energetic protest against this new policy against the rights of all humans.”