If Canada hadn’t opened its arms to Ronald J. Daniels’ father and his father’s siblings and parents in 1939, they may never have escaped the Holocaust and forged a new path in North America.
Daniels wrote about that crossroads for his family in a letter sent today to students, faculty and staff about President Donald Trump’s recent executive actions concerning U.S. immigration policy. He referenced Trump’s five-day-old travel ban for people from seven majority-Muslim countries, writing that it “takes our country down the ominous path of erecting barriers not on the basis of a demonstrated security threat but on the basis of religion.”
The measure had an immediate impact on Johns Hopkins University, Daniels wrote, forcing a returning faculty member to leave behind her elderly parents in Iran — which was not her plan — and putting a green-card-holding Ph.D. student at risk of being detained at Dulles International Airport. (He ultimately wasn’t detained and “was met outside baggage claim, with great enthusiasm, by a group of JHU colleagues,” noted university spokesman Dennis O’Shea in an email.)
Daniels wrote that Trump’s policy changes also hurt him inside as he reflected on his path to the United States. The Hopkins president was born and raised in Canada; he became a U.S. citizen only last year after applying for dual citizenship in Baltimore.
His family arrived in Canada by way of Poland in 1939. His father, his father’s siblings and his grandparents all escaped the Holocaust as Jewish refugees, only months before Hitler launched his invasion of Poland, he wrote. They were among only 5,000 Jews from abroad admitted to Canada from 1933 to 1945, and many of his and his wife Joanne’s Jewish family members back in Europe perished by the end of World War II, he wrote.
“I am exactly one generation away from the boy who clamored for entry into a new country,” he said. “And as my father’s son, I reflect often on the fortuitous trajectory that afforded me the opportunity to serve as president of this university—a university whose mission and excellence are predicated on welcoming and providing a home for people of diverse beliefs, ideas, and backgrounds.”
In a separate letter sent to the campus community on Saturday, Daniels and JHU provost Sunil Kumar said some visitors expected to come to the Hopkins campus over the next several months may be affected by the travel ban. They advised any affected students or JHU-affiliated scholars “not to travel outside the United States” and encouraged them to instead meet with an adviser from the school’s Office of International Services.
Daniels said in his more personal letter from Wednesday that the university intends to support its community members in the months ahead.
“We will redouble our commitment to discovery, open inquiry, and impact on society, including the policy and practices that govern our lives,” he wrote, adding, “To do less is to sacrifice the futures not only of countless individuals but of our nation and its great institutions.”