GWSS Faculty Statement on ICE International Student Policy
On Monday July 6th 2020, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that International Students with F-1 and M-1 visas “attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.” The announcement further states that students with F-1 visas may not take a fully online course load even if their university is adopting a hybrid model. If implemented, this decision will have devastating effects on thousands of students who will have to choose between risking their health during a pandemic and losing their immigration status. We condemn ICE’s attack on immigrants and demand that the Trump Administration rescind the policy. We additionally call on University of Minnesota President Gabel and the University administration to challenge this ruling via legal, administrative, and other avenues and to support international students who are living with great uncertainty. International students are vital members of higher education. They bring critical knowledge, a broad range of experiences, and valuable perspectives to all aspects of higher education.
The ICE decision on F-1 and M-1 visa holders means that international students across the country cannot stay in the U.S. if their entire course load is online. Considering that hybrid and face-to-face courses may need to move to remote delivery at short notice if transmission levels increase dramatically, international students and their families are put at risk of deportation if and when universities move teaching online. This policy is cruel and inequitable and strips international students of their right to continue their education. International students, scholars, and graduate level researchers contribute deeply to intellectual communities and higher education. They also forge deep ties with communities and universities in deciding to study in the United States. Undergraduate and graduate students move to the U.S. and build networks, communities, and homes here. The ICE ruling will disrupt those ties and create massive obstacles for international students to complete study. As well, it will create huge financial problems for students who receive university fellowships or who have instructional appointments and will need to continue being paid while living elsewhere. Given the increasing number of racist travel bans imposed by the Trump administration, and considering the difficulty and expense of international travel amid a pandemic, this policy creates exorbitant expense and particularly harms students who are targeted by racist immigration laws based on their nationality, and those who cannot afford to travel internationally. Because it is unclear when U.S. embassies will re-open, especially those located in Muslim countries, students’ capacity to return to the U.S. is also jeopardized.
Furthermore, students whose home countries are subjected to U.S. sanctions (such as Iranian students) are not able to take online classes, as universities are prohibited from offering online courses to them.
The ICE policy is a vicious, cruel, and hateful move that is consistent with the Trump administration’s attempt to restrict immigration more broadly including the 2017 Muslim-targeted travel ban targeted immigrants in a variety of visa categories and more recently DHS imposed Covid-related travel restrictions on H1B and J1 visa holders, many of whom are scholars or university workers. This announcement is yet another one of xenophobic policies of this administration that aims to stop immigration.
Furthermore, this policy is part of the Trump’s administration attempts to minimize the severity of COVID-19 pandemic within the United States. The administration has repeatedly minimized the dangers of COVID-19 and has prematurely urged reopening of institutions, businesses, and public spaces. In regard to this most recent pronouncement, Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Secretary Ken Cuccinelli has said that the policy is meant to encourage “schools to reopen.” This past week, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos has also made similar remarks about the reopening of in person learning in K-12 schools for the fall.
This policy forces students to attend face-to-face teaching during a deadly pandemic, lest they risk deportation. It is timed to force universities to open fully for face-to-face teaching in the Fall -- a move that contravenes CDC and government advice on social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While we understand the value of in-person learning, especially in fields such as our own, we believe that our students’ well-being and their lives during the pandemic take priority over the economic interests of this administration. We are concerned that opening up universities for in-person classes is being prioritized at the expense of Black, Native, and brown people who are statistically more likely to be essential workers in universities and who are disproportionately affected by this pandemic. Forcing universities to open up for face-to-face teaching jeopardizes the health and well-being of all members of the university community. It also creates an untenable situation for university workers and students who are parents and caregivers, who must bear the burden of caring for children or dependents as well as attending classes, working on campus, and exposing themselves and their families to illness.
The policy is brief and written in confusing language which provides little guidance for the many situations international students and university administrations find themselves in currently. We believe the language and timing of this statement is designed to sow confusion and disorder, in order to disorient immigrants and deter them from entering the U.S. or studying here. Aside from being economically disastrous, this move is testament to the inhumanity of ICE and the white supremacist, anti-immigrant sentiments of the Trump Administration. We stand with all international students and non citizens, and we reject the artificial division between “citizen” and “aliens” that this policy imposes.
If implemented, this policy will have devastating effects on approximately one million students nationally, and significant numbers of UMN students, indeed some of the very best students in our department and the University. Considering that international students pay exorbitant tuition fees, this policy will also hurt the University in substantial ways, especially during this pandemic when the University is facing a financial crisis. Several universities such as Harvard and MIT have filed lawsuits against DHS in response to this policy.
We call on ICE to rescind this decision and to release all conditions on face-to-face instruction for F1 and M1 visa holders until COVID-19 vaccines and treatment are widely available and freely accessible. We additionally call on President Gabel and the university administration to do the same, and demand that all university entities, including that the UMPD refuse to comply with ICE and any further xenophobic policies initiated by the Department of Homeland Security. Since 2017, the University has publicly stated that it is a sanctuary campus and this commitment must include: protecting all students; challenging this ruling via legal, administrative, and other avenues; and supporting international students who are living with great uncertainties. We also call on all universities to move teaching online in the fall 2020 semester in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and to protect those communities within our universities who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, including international students and their families. We ask that President Gabel move quickly on this matter so that the University of Minnesota can model to other institutions what it means to be a sanctuary campus at a xenophobic and hateful time such as this.