Members Weigh In on IEEE President Bartleson’s Message in Response to U.S. Travel Ban

Some say the statement was political; others say it was necessary to show support of global scientific research

14 March 2017

IEEE President Karen Bartleson issued a statement on 2 February in response to concerns expressed by IEEE members around the world about the 27 January executive order that banned travel to the United States by citizens from seven countries for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

At its 13 February meeting, the IEEE Board of Directors endorsed and adopted Bartleson’s statement as the IEEE position statement, “Advancing the Global Practice of Science and Engineering.”

Reaction to Bartleson’s statement has been mixed. Although supporters say the restrictive travel rules could harm the exchange of scientific research, opponents expressed concern that IEEE was getting involved in politics. (A revised executive order was issued on 3 March after the initial one was challenged in U.S. federal courts.)

Here is a selection of comments sent to The Institute.

International Organization

I thank you for the message you sent to our IEEE community, highlighting the scientific and business values of openness between the countries of the world. It was good that the “International EEE” organization emphasized why our group exists. I attended my first conferences in the early 1980s. There I met scientists who came from countries behind the Iron Curtain who traveled with non-scientists sent by their governments to monitor them. The scientists, of course, knew that it was a necessity for them to work with their international colleagues. But what strikes me now is that their governments also understood that this was crucial, and made exceptions to the restrictive travel rules to enable the exchange of scientific research.

—Hong-Ha Vuong

Wrong Direction

I am deeply saddened with the direction IEEE seems to be heading. Instead of maintaining itself as a preeminent technical organization, it has decided to venture into politics and social engineering. Instead of stating the organization sees each country as a sovereign state with the right to declare its own laws and enforce them and protect their people, we are now taking aim at not offending nations for their laws, but our own nation for trying to enforce its own laws and protect its own people.

Have you even read the executive order? Why does IEEE believe it can interpret the law better than anyone else? Why has IEEE fallen to the pressure of the ignorant minority that seem to not understand what the order states? Has IEEE determined if the majority of its membership agrees with making a statement on this? Has the IEEE done its research on this and formulated a well-thought-out position? Why hasn’t the IEEE made statements to the way other countries treat their engineers and people? IEEE should not be meddling in the affairs of state, especially in my opinion in those of a country with one of the most generous immigration policies.

I’d also like to remind IEEE that our laws do not necessarily afford anything to non-U.S. nationals. Our laws are for our citizens and describe how we will conduct ourselves, not how we will stand up for non-nationals. If IEEE continues to move to the left and not stand up for the hardworking law-abiding engineers and their profession, I will be forced to suspend my 42-year membership. Note, I have been a society chairperson a number of times, section chairperson three times, and served on a number of councils and committees. I do not make my statement lightly.

—Steven Rebovich

Taking a Stand

Thank you for publishing a very positive and public stand against discrimination. I am proud to be an IEEE member. I am very proud that IEEE has taken a stand against discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or any other human social trait. I am scandalized by President Trump’s behavior and attitude and his pandering to discriminatory attitudes. I am very grateful for your statements countering those attitudes.

—Itrel Monroe

Immigration Is Not a Right

I'm tired of listening to statements about diversity, since it is irrelevant to the IEEE goal of advancing electrical engineering. Only open opportunity is important, and this may or may not result in diversity. The quota systems implicitly advocated by the Bartlesons of the world can only reduce equal opportunity. Finally, immigration to the United States is not the right of any foreigner, but rather is a gracious gesture by U.S. citizens, who have a right to determine the detailed motives of these immigrants before they are afforded this kindness. Too many American-trained engineers are being displaced by H-1B [visa] non-Americans. The H-1B holders depress the wages of American engineers and lead to underemployment of older American engineers in particular.

—Thomas J. Harrington

A Stronger Statement Wanted

It is clear what President Bartleson’s recent message is about. A president in leadership of a diverse community must by necessity promote moderate messages. However, the rules of the game have changed. The current U.S. president is not moderate in any way, shape, or form, and so I wish that President Bartleson had more strongly stated IEEE’s position against the current racist immigration acts. I have to believe that, especially in a community as sophisticated and meritocratic as IEEE, that President Bartleson would have overwhelming support.

—Jose Velez

Stay out of Politics

As a 30-year member of IEEE, I felt the need to respond to the message the IEEE president sent out today. The statement was made that all countries should develop and maintain immigration and visa policies that encourage, facilitate, and protect the ability of people from around the world to engage in these types of science and engineering activities. While an admirable and worthy goal, I believe that the greatest responsibility of a government is to protect its citizens.

The recent executive order regarding issuance of visas and restrictions on travel as concern seven nations (which are hotbeds of terrorism) is something I heartily support. It puts our national security first, something the previous administration was remiss in doing. A look at recent events in our nation and around the world will provide adequate confirmation of the wisdom of this step. How could we be so foolish to admit folks from these at-risk countries that cannot be properly vetted? Keep in mind that this restriction is not permanent and covers only those countries where it is felt difficult to sufficiently vet prospective immigrants at this time.

Additionally, President Trump has said that he would heartily support the admission of educated immigrants—those who have positive contributions to make to our country. I therefore don’t find his position at odds with yours. I do disagree that there is a “right” of individuals to go wherever in the world they want to in order to pursue a profession. How did you arrive at that conclusion? Where else on the face of the earth is that true? Every nation has the right to determine who it admits! I would kindly request that you keep such politics out of the IEEE, being careful not to add to the national hysteria that we are currently experiencing. While you may be speaking for certain members of IEEE, you certainly don’t speak for me.

—Robert Krewson
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