Note: This article was completed on Monday, July 13th. The next day, Tuesday, July 14th, ICE reversed this policy.

On Monday, July 6th, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement made an announcement that sent shock waves across the nation. They declared that if an international student was not taking any classes at their school in-person, they must return to their home country. If not, they could be at risk for deportation. Upon this declaration, international college students were understandably sent into states of panic, while universities added fighting for their international students to their long list of stressors during these unprecedented times. And many Americans recognized that without international students, the nation’s economy would take another hit which, coupled with the serious economic impacts of the coronavirus, could be quite devastating. This is to say, the support for this policy seemed to be lacking in many areas, especially in college communities. Many school administrators saw the policy as a move by the Trump administration to try and force schools into reopening despite safety concerns. And since a large portion of schools have already released plans that include hybrid or all-online options, this new rule is quite stressful. They know they may have to make some quick changes in order to accommodate international students or take other actions. For example, Harvard, which has already committed to going entirely online for the fall and spring semester this school year, filed a federal lawsuit against the policy on Wednesday, along with MIT. Even though it’s only been a week since it was announced, ICE’s new policy has already proved to be damaging to the minds and lives of innocent students, along with the American economy and American universities, of which international students are valued members. Although allowing these students to study in the US while they’re not in class in not the status quo, for these reasons and more, the policy should immediately be revoked to allow college students of all nationalities to safely continue their education in these abnormal circumstances.

Chaos For International Students

When the coronavirus made its way to the United States back in March, colleges were forced to send students home and end the semester remotely. For international students, the announcement of this shift was initially very stressful, as they didn’t know if they would be forced off campus and back to their home countries. However, because the virus was so unexpected, an exception was made, allowing international students to remain in the United States while completing their spring semesters online. When this exception was announced, ICE promised that it would stay “in effect for the duration of the emergency…” In other words, international students wouldn’t have to worry about deportation due to online classes until COVID-19 was no longer a large threat. Well, this promise was clearly an empty one, as cases continue to surge throughout the country this summer, yet ICE quickly changed its mind per its announcement on Monday. As a result, international students were in no way prepared for the potentially life-altering news. “I read the statement and I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Simge Topaloğlu, a Harvard doctoral student from Turkey. Because of the new rule, Topaloğlu has to make some very difficult decisions. If she were to transfer to a school with in-person instruction, she would be giving up her Harvard degree, as well as putting her health at risk by attending class. But if she decides to stick with Harvard, she must risk deportation or willingly return to Turkey, which would severely complicate her ability to continue her education successfully. She has recognized that the seven hour time difference would turn a 3pm class into a 10pm, and because she lives with a sick elderly relative, focusing on her studies could be a challenge. And Topaloğlu is not alone. Each international student has their own set of concerns regarding what a possible return home could look like for their ability to learn. Some worry about having access to the Internet and other resources needed to learn remotely, while others are concerned about trying to attend classes in an abusive home environment. Still, others are extremely concerned about the idea of attending in-person classes in order to remain in the country, especially those with pre-existing health conditions. For example, Smit Kiri, an asthmatic student at Northeastern, said he finds it unfair that international students “have to risk [their] lives and go to the university even if [they] are … at a higher risk of contracting the virus … or dying from it.” And Kiri is right; no student should be forced to put their life at risk in order to avoid deportation, especially when they are likely being deported to a place where keeping up with their studies may prove difficult.

Another Hit For The US Economy

While ICE’s policy is primarily an attack aimed at international students, and they are likely to suffer the most as a result of it, a negative hit to the US economy will likely be one of the policy’s byproducts. After all, international students contribute heavily to the American economy. In fact, in 2018 alone, “international students contributed 45 billion dollars to the economy, and they created over 450,000 jobs in the US between 2018 and 2019. These numbers are very significant, and this policy will likely cause the nation to lose a large portion of their international students. Whether students reluctantly choose to return home on their own, or they are deported, they will no longer be contributing to the US economy at nearly the same rate. Additionally, this policy is likely to scare international high-school students who are considering coming to the United States for their college education. With so much uncertainty surrounding this pandemic, especially in the United States, this added fear will likely cause many prospective students to reconsider coming to America, hurting the future economy, as well. 

What’s more, if these students are no longer graduating college in the United States, they are much less likely to begin their careers here. Some may see this as a positive, as they won’t be competing with American citizens for jobs. However, a large portion of international students are significantly more qualified than their American peers. In fact, so-called “foreigners” have brought great successes to the United States over the years. 25% percent of billion-dollar startup founders were first international students in the US. The students that ICE is now so eager to kick out have previously founded huge companies, including Zoom, Google, Lysol, and Moderna, one of the companies with the best chance at creating a vaccine for the coronavirus. By releasing their new policy, ICE is indicating to foreign students that they are unwanted in America, when really, this nation should be welcoming them with open arms, as these companies and others have had a paramount impact on the world.

A Shot At Higher Education

Unlike ICE, American institutes of higher education value and appreciate their international students for many reasons. For one, they bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives to campuses, along with their variety of exceptional talents. In addition, they often pay full tuition. This is very critical for schools, as they can give more financial aid to American students in need if they have international students paying full tuition. What’s more, colleges have seen decreasing enrollment numbers from American students in recent years, so international students help to fill up their classes. And during this global pandemic, which has caused lots of schools to struggle financially, they need as many students, especially ones who can pay full tuition, as they can get. As a result, ICE’s July 6th policy was received very poorly by colleges and universities, especially those like Harvard, that had already released plans to hold next semester completely online. Schools felt as if this new policy was a direct attack at them, as they now must scramble to find ways to accommodate and help their international community members. Amidst all of this uncertainty, administrators have spent hours coming up with a fall plan that is best for all students and faculty, and they will likely have to spend a few more coming up with a solution to this new problem. 

Universities Fight Back

Now, it would be easy for universities to decide that ICE’s plan makes sense, and their international students can just take online courses from their home country because they have too many issues to deal with this summer. However, it is clear that ICE’s policy will hurt the lives and education of international students, as well as damage the universities themselves, so most schools have made fighting this policy and/or finding ways to support international students a priority. As mentioned before, Harvard and MIT fought back quickly, filing a federal lawsuit against the policy on Wednesday, July 8th. And many other colleges and universities have indicated that they’d like to join, stating that they side with the two Cambridge powerhouses in this case. In addition, other governors or educational organizations have announced their support for the case. For example, the Massachusetts attorney general is on board, stating that “[t]his decision from ICE is cruel, it’s illegal, and we will sue to stop it.” The leaders of the lawsuit are suing on the basis that the new rule was politically motivated, with the intent of forcing schools to reopen despite health concerns. They’re arguing that using international students to push their unsafe agenda on universities is unconstitutional, and therefore, the policy should be revoked.

While many schools are in support of the lawsuit and see the elimination of the policy as the best case scenario, some have focused their time since the news on adapting their fall plans to accommodate international students assuming the rule stays in place. For example, New York University, Brown, Columbia, and others have vowed to create enough hybrid courses to enroll all of their international students. In this way, they would ensure that their students could remain in the United States, even if they were only spending one hour a week in class. NYU has also promised to reach out to members of the federal government, declaring their disapproval of the policy and their desire for its revocation. In addition, some schools, such as UCLA and Cal Poly, have in-person class offerings that are open to students from any school. This way, students don’t have to transfer completely if their school goes online, but they can meet the requirements to stay in the United States for the semester. 

The steps that Harvard, MIT, NYU, UCLA, and others have taken within the last week or so since ICE’s announcement are important and should be helpful for international students. However, it is important that schools, and American citizens, don’t stop there. This policy could be incredibly damaging to the lives of international students, forcing them to lose out on their education, or attempt to complete it in a less-than-ideal environment. Pushing these students out of the United States will also damage the financial stability of higher education institutions, hurt the nation’s economy in general, and possibly prevent the future founders and CEOs of the next Zoom or Google from living up to their potential. More schools and educational administrations should join the Harvard and MIT lawsuit and/or attempt to cover all their bases in protecting international students from deportation as well as COVID-19. The more international students that feel comfortable and safe staying in the United States, the better the outcome for the students, the schools, and the country. Fighting this unjust policy is urgent, and the United States as a nation must band together to do so.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and/or student and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of United 4 Social Change Inc., its board members, or officers.
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