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Fighting ICE’s New Policy on Foreign Students

New Guidance Is as Cruel as it Is Thoughtless, but AAU Is Fighting Back

The only way to describe new guidance from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued July 6 is as a cruel and misguided policy. Demanding a ridiculously short reporting deadline, it adds a needless layer of demand for “in-person instruction” to the already unprecedentedly complex decisions colleges and universities face about opening in the fall. The heartbreaking reactions of current and former international students to this decision have really brought home just how inhumane this policy change is.

The #StudentBan hashtag on Twitter tells the story about the agonizing choices that students are confronting. For instance, Ishita Gopal (@izzigopal) wrote : “And I thought the cancelled flights, stress of finding last minute summer housing, [and] not being able to see my mom for over a year would be enough. With no support system, in the middle of a pandemic, this is all that was missing.”

Audilio Herrera (@aj_lio) listed just a few of the logistical hurdles international students will face if forced to leave the United States: “Many of these students already rent an apartment and are on a lease[;] they can’t just pack up and leave. Many of them have pets that they will have to leave behind. They’ll leave new friends behind. Some students aren’t able to book flights to their home countries.”

In addition to the harm to our students, this decision would have a harsh economic and community impact in a nation where international learners contribute more than $41 billion each year. Consider the public good done by international students, captured in this tweet by @duggu_6261: “I worked in soup kitchens during weekends in New York; I did community service for the people of this country. I paid 30% of my salary as taxes for betterment of this country. And in return the country is trying to send me away. Brilliant.”

We do not need to follow a Twitter hashtag to see how misguided it is to drive international students away from our nation. What if Dr. Peter Tsai, who came to the United States in 1981 on a student visa to pursue his doctoral studies, had never invented the filtration technology in n95 masks?

This fundamentally misguided policy change demands a strong response from AAU and from our members – and that’s exactly what we’re doing. Many of our member universities have stepped up to create or add sections of in-person classes to allow more international students to enroll and fulfill the requirements of the policy change. AAU members Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued ICE to keep the agency from implementing the policy change, and the University of California system (several of whose campuses are AAU members) and the Johns Hopkins University have filed similar suits; AAU is supporting the Harvard/MIT litigation with an amicus brief and is considering similar briefs in the California case and others that may arise. At least 26 AAU member universities are also participating as amici in this litigation. Likewise, there are multiple other efforts with sign-on and “Dear Colleague” letters that we are circulating and supporting to build momentum in Congress to reverse this cruel policy.

International students are an integral part of what has made America the world’s leader in university-based research, and we will absolutely put up a fight when officials with anti-immigrant agendas try to use them as political pawns.