What we can learn from the rule changes on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program
On July 2, 2020, the Trump Administration announced a set of rule changes that would have stripped international students of their visas if their university classes were fully online, essentially requiring these students to leave the United States if their campuses remained remote in the fall. These proposed changeswould have impacted over one million international students on F-1 and M-1 visas studying at U.S. universities and colleges. In so doing, the administration again pitted public health against economic reopening, in an attempt to minimize the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and push for a resumption of in-person university instruction, regardless of the risks of infectious disease spread in doing so. The proposal is yet another example of this Administration’s overall assault on public and higher education and on all immigrant communities. Just as we sighed a momentary breath of relief in response to the Supreme Court ruling against the Administration on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), another group of our precariously-statused students--international students—found themselves under attack. The rule change would have made international students vulnerable to detection and deportation at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), threats and vulnerabilities likewise experienced by undocumented and DACAmented students. On July 14, the Trump administration rescinded this rule change in response to a lawsuit by MIT and Harvard, along with lawsuits from hundreds of peer institutions and states across the country.
While we are temporarily relieved by this rescission, the rule change reminds us that, in this moment of heightened attack on our students, there is an urgent need for us to come together as allies for all marginalized and precariously-statused communities. We also note that international and undocumented student services on our campuses rarely, if ever, collaborate, even as the students they serve share similar experiences of precarity and vulnerability.
As faculty active in efforts to protect DACAmented and undocumented students, we are familiar with trying to support students who feel vulnerable, anxious, and under attack. We have worked with campus administrations to support our students: fostering greater understanding of the challenges and barriers facing undocumented students and their families, and working to decrease institutional barriers related to securing admissions, financial aid, and relevant support services. In some instances, we have collaborated with our university general counsel offices to educate faculty, staff, and students about how to respond should ICE agents engage in raids or enforcement activities on campus. Here, we share some of our hard-fought wisdom on how universities, campus units, and programs might support international students.
Consider how to protect student information. Some suggestions circulating to protect international students (e.g. creating “shell courses” so students appear to receive in-person instructional units) are well-intentioned. However, some of these approaches unwittingly may harm students or expose them to greater risk. From our work as allies to undocumented and DACAmented students, we have learned the importance of working with the Registrar and other campus entities to protect student information from unlawful DHS inquiries, as it can be used against students if they renew visas or attempt to adjust their legal status in the future. Further, universities risk federal funding if these courses were deemed fraudulent.
Connect with university centers or entities that support undocumented and DACAmented students. Students may be apprehensive or scared to seek help, especially when ICE threatens their deportation. To qualify for in-state tuition, scholarships, and other forms of support, undocumented and DACAmented students often have to disclose their legal status repeatedly. This is frightening especially in the current anti-immigrant climate, and such disclosures bring risks of deportation not only of themselves but also their family members. By partnering with campus groups or centers that support undocumented students, International Studies offices might learn how to establish and provide legal service, develop effective programming around future uncertainties, and proactively alleviate institutional barriers to student success.
Learn about your university’s policies and practices related to immigration enforcement. During the beginning of the Trump administration, students, faculty and staff around the country organized to establish sanctuary campuses which prohibit the collaboration between campus police and ICE. We encourage International Studies offices to inquire with administrators and campus police how they will respond if and when ICE comes to campus. Are they aware of the Sensitive Locations Memorandum? Do they know that immigration warrants must be signed by an immigration judge, in spite of ICE often claiming that administrative warrants suffice?
Demand institutional support for legal counsel for international students. Resist the temptation to provide legal advice to students on their options for the Fall. Each legal case is unique and support from an experienced immigration attorney is critical especially when it comes to compliance and protection from removal proceedings. We ask that universities hire immigration attorneys as part of their legal services to students and encourage collaboration with them. If institutional support is unavailable, identify local legal resources and assistance to refer students.
Learn and educate your institution about deportation. Immigrant students are vulnerable to deportation. If international students were to fall out of legal status they would be forced to leave--not asked. As we have witnessed repeatedly in our work with undocumented and DACAmented students, removal proceedings involved in deportation cases are physically and emotionally traumatizing for individuals and their families, and carry long-term consequences for the possibility of future admission into the United States. All international students must be prepared and understand what the deportation process entails.
Recognize the cumulative stress of COVID-19, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the threat of removal on students’ mental health and provide support. For undocumented students the threat of deportation and racism targeting their communities seep into every aspect of their lives. We have recently seen a rise in anti-Asian racism in relation to misinformation around Covid-19. Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues result from such daily stressors. Expanding the availability of services to students is critical. International Studies offices would be wise to enlist the specialized skills and knowledge of counselors with experience working with immigrant students.
Be prepared to do more and to take risks. In our work with undocumented students, accompaniment is essential in guiding allyship. Accompaniment means letting students know that they are not alone by being physically present to their needs and advocating for them. We have learned that we have to put ourselves out there and this may involve taking risks by speaking out.
As the Steering Committee of the Anthropologist Action Network for Immigrants and Refugees (AANIR), we stand in solidarity with international and undocumented students and call for universities and colleges to collaboratively and proactively work to overturn all unjust, anti-immigrant attacks by the Trump administration.
Deanna Barenboim, Sarah Lawrence College
Heide Castañeda, University of South Florida
Whitney Duncan, University of Northern Colorado
Christina Getrich, University of Maryland
Lauren Heidbrink, California State University, Long Beach
Sarah Horton, University of Colorado
Mariela Nuñez-Janes, University of North Texas
Wendy Vogt, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Kristin Yarris, University of Oregon