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Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday that F1 and M1 visa holders — most international students — must leave the U.S. if their schools are online for the Fall semester. Students at schools with a hybrid model of reopening must take at least one in-person class or face deportation.
As an international student, it is a terrifying time to be in the U.S. Stranded from friends and family back home, I am and will be on my own throughout this entire pandemic. With travel bans set in so many countries, including my own, the odds that I can fly home should cases spik, and my classes move online are slim.
I am also not a citizen of my home country. My parents, who are divorced, are of different nationalities. I inherited my father’s passport and my mother’s tongue.
If I face deportation in the U.S., I would have nowhere to go.
This is my background and my own concerns with the new ICE policy. I am aware that the policy is more devastating for a lot of other students, those who are in the U.S. because they seek the freedom to be who they are. There are students who cannot go home due to fear of persecution: for their religion, their sexual orientation, or their political views.
International students are not cash cows
Judging from the reaction online, the new ICE policy baffled everybody. Schools band together to sue for the reversal of the policy and students created petitions to protect their international community.
While I find these actions necessary, and I am very thankful, I feel disheartened that the loudest reason to protect us, international students, is because we bring in money.
The Association of American Universities, which represents 65 research universities, including my own, Columbia University, released a statement condemning policy on Tuesday. The policy will do “further damage to our nation’s universities, which are already struggling with unprecedented uncertainty, massive logistical complications, and significant financial losses due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement reads. “This policy change would also have negative economic impact, because international students spend millions of dollars in our communities every year.”
I feel disheartened that the loudest reason to protect us, international students, is because we bring in money.
The statement fails to mention all the other reasons why international students are necessary in the U.S., focusing solely on the $41 billion we bring to the economy. International students are at universities to contribute their intellect and curiosity. We bring in knowledge and perspective in all fields of academia.
International students constitute a third of enrollment at science and engineering graduate schools. Imagine all the research, the pages written, the experiments conducted by these foreign students! In the arts and humanities, international students challenge what American high schools taught, bursting the bubble of American exceptionalism. We enrich the classroom debate.
Outside these academic spaces, we form the community at the backbone of our institutions. To so many domestic students, we are friends verging on family. Our presence might mean the addition of dozens of new spices in the kitchen cabinet, or the tears on the floor after a night of binging a foreign TV series, or the promises of traveling the world together after graduation.
Protect students, not money
What concerns me about the rhetoric used to protect international students is that it ignores the human beings we are. With money as the only reason why we should stay, schools and fellow students forget that we have passion and ambition and devotion. Everything we offer, undocumented students do as well.
The rhetoric used to protect international students is that it ignores the human beings we are.
This is what is most concerning about how we treat international students: it sets us apart from our undocumented peers when in fact, we are all students deserving of protection. When lawmakers prioritize money as what is most valuable, they invalidate the necessity of students who do not contribute as much to the economy.
Undocumented students fought for their rights to remain in the U.S. for a long time. Their voices deserve amplification and their needs should be at the top of our demands in this ongoing fight against the new ICE policy.
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