Dear Member of WPSA:
The Western Political Science Association has long had a reputation for hosting a welcoming annual meeting where scholars consciously orient their presentations toward significant problems in politics. It is also the home of annual pre-conference workshops on Latino politics, environmental politics, feminist political theory, and other specialized inquiries. WPSA prides itself on its spirit of lively inquiry with a critical focus on political issues that matter not just to political scientists, but to anyone who cares about the health and vitality of politics, policy, democracy, and civic engagement.
As the association has grown over the years, we have enjoyed providing a space for inquiry that brings together scholars from the western United States, but also scholars based in other regions of the United States and abroad. Our welcoming reputation has also made the annual meeting a magnet for graduate students, many of whom hold student visas and enrich our proceedings with perspectives spanning earlier educational experiences from across the globe. One acknowledgement of our recognition that the world of political science is not solely an American world was our decision to be the first regional American association in the discipline to hold an annual meeting outside of the United States, traveling to Vancouver in 2009. This year, we return to Vancouver to reinforce this understanding.
The “we” who return to Vancouver, however, is not universal. Our program team did its usual excellent job of constructing a wonderful program during the fall as the US election campaign was unfolding, and our invitations to accepted participants went out as usual in late October. However, in the wake of President Trump’s executive orders banning migration from seven, and then six, Muslim-majority nations, coupled with multiple verified reports of highly aggressive border policing, scholars at risk began to withdraw from the conference. Approximately a dozen have been in touch with WPSA to inform us that they would be unable to attend. Some were directly affected by the travel ban, and even with the legal injunction in place, felt directly targeted and threatened by the President’s words. Some, though not from the targeted nations, received advice from private legal counsel that traveling on a visa outside of the United States was risky because problem-free reentry could not be guaranteed. Others were advised by their universities to err on the side of caution. And some simply observed the many reports of non-citizens, even green card holders, having had to endure interrogations, delays, and detentions at the border and quite reasonably concluded that the risks were too great. Further, the chaos in the federal bureaucracy charged with processing visa renewals has produced unreasonable and unanticipated delays for other scholars.
As President of the Association, I saw the notes from the scholars who informed us about the reasons for withdrawing from the conference. These fine scholars were regretful and apologetic, some even expressing some shame for their fears. Their words saddened me but angered me as well, and I am sure that beyond those who expressed their regrets, more simply opted out without explaining. I wrote back to each person who contacted WPSA, but wanted to make all members of the association aware of the loss that we have all incurred.
The inhumane, unconstitutional, and irrational executive orders and apparent policy directives that target immigrants and visa holders have directly harmed our association and our members. Of course, those who cannot travel or who reasonably fear traveling lose out by not being able to attend the annual meeting. However, those who will attend the meeting also lose out by not being able to engage with these crucially important members of our community. The comparative experiences and insights of our immigrant and visa-holding members help to advance the scholarly interests of everyone who gets to hear about them, think about them, and use them as lenses to reflect critically on their own research and experiences. The knowledge we generate in Vancouver will be impoverished through its exclusivity. This impoverishment hits in part precisely where it does the most harm – because of the diminishment of our scholarly circle, our attending members have less capacity to understand and address the comparative and international dynamics that have contributed to the backwards mindset behind these travel policies.
I am sorry as your President that this annual meeting, no matter how wonderful it is, will fall short of its greatest potential. I’m sorry for the squandered opportunities for attendees to engage with the fullest possible range of political science scholarship. But most of all, I am terribly sorry that some of our members will be unable to come to the conference that means so much to all of us. I hope, of course, that we will have full and robust participation next year, but far more than that, I hope that next year we can come together in a political environment in the United States that respects and honors the tremendously valuable intellectual contributions of immigrants and visa holders.