On July 6, there was an outcry across the internet. Frustration and anger arose as international college students received what many called disheartening news.
In response to several universities declaring they would have online classes in the fall, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a statement announcing modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which allows students from across the world to study at American universities.
ICE declared that as of fall 2020, all international students who attend a university that is fully online would either need to transfer to another institution or face deportation and denial of their visa.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2018, international students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy, with many of those students bringing wealth from their home country and government. So, why did ICE threaten to deport international students if they are such an asset to the U.S.?
According to its website, ICE proclaimed, “Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.”
The statement said that in order to avoid deportation or the denial of a visa, international students would have to enroll in at least one in-person course, throwing many into a state of shock and worry.
ICE later declared that due to COVID-19, the SEVP policy would allow international students to finish their spring semester, but it was only a temporary exemption that would end in the fall.
Outrage Toward ICE
As momentum for the Black Lives Matter movement has grown this summer, calls to #AbolishICE and remove what many call a corrupt government body are also on the rise. This recent event has reinforced the narrative.
Sometimes I think about how ICE is literally 17 years old, which:
1) fascinates me to think about how an agency that isn't even college-aged is now threatening access to college for immigrants and
2) reminds me that we can absolutely live in a world without ICE. #AbolishICE
— Winn Periyasamy (MPH, She/They) (@WPeriyasamy) July 6, 2020
Striving for Change
Shortly after ICE’s statement was released, college students across the country took to Change.org to voice frustrations and move toward a solution. Petitions declaring “ICE: Do not deport International Students” popped up all over the site — one petition received nearly half a million signatures.
“International students make up 5.5% of the US university population. On average, they pay more tuition than American citizens going to these colleges. Not only is this cruel and disgusting, it will hurt colleges and universities all around the United States, they will make less money as a result of 5.5% of their student population being deported,” said one petition.
In addition to petitions, students across the country created informational cards that included detailed resources on how to support international students. They listed vetted petitions, ways to contact a citizen’s local representative and links to vote in order to make a change.
Many internet users suggested that U.S. institutions create courses to allow international students to stay on campus.
One Twitter user said, “Petition for universities to create a one-credit course for international students called ‘F— ICE 101’ that meets in person once per semester with excused absences. ‘F— ICE 102’ to be taught next spring.”
Petition for universities to create a one-credit course for international students called "Fuck ICE 101" that meets in person once per semester with excused absences. "Fuck ICE 102" to be taught next spring.
— JG (@JuliaRGeiger) July 6, 2020
With other Twitter users in agreement, the tweet amassed over 10,000 retweets on the day of the ICE news release.
Shortly after, a professor at Georgia State University offered to teach an in-person course for international students titled “Violations of the Administrative Procedures Act Under the Trump Administration.”
As the petitions started to rise in popularity, news organizations and lawyers began to take notice.
“Schools should not have to choose between enrolling international students in in-person classes and risking public health,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “We’re suing.”
Shortly after ICE’s statement, over 200 institutions, including Harvard and MIT, declared they were going to sue the U.S. government — a victory for the petitioners.
Harvard’s president, Lawrence Bacow, stated that the institution will vigorously defend international students at their university and across the country, so they may continue their studies without fear of deportation.
According to the Associated Press, eight federal lawsuits were filed against ICE, and many people wondered what the president was going to do next.
ICE Agrees to Withdraw the Directive
On July 14, as a hearing began in a federal lawsuit brought on by Harvard and MIT, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughes said that ICE has agreed to rescind their directive and “return to the status quo.”
However, the decision came with conditions. This declaration “is not intended for new or initial students who are outside the United States,” meaning that incoming international students who attend a fully online university still face deportation, and their visas may be declined.
Still, the unexpected announcement was met with joy from the presidents of Harvard and MIT, as they were the initial contesters of the Trump administration’s directive.
“This case also made abundantly clear that real lives are at stake in these matters, with the potential for real harm,” said L. Rafael Reif, MIT’s president. “We need to approach policy making, especially now, with more humanity, more decency — not less.”
Many individuals were comforted by Tuesday’s news, but others questioned the motives behind the decision, asking if universities would support their undocumented students at the same level.
Y’all see how quickly that happened… imagine if elite schools cared about undocumented students the same way they cared about international students, and demanded more from the government with all their institutional power ? https://t.co/dL48wAtqxI
— andrea (@andypandycandy5) July 14, 2020
We still don’t know exactly why ICE threatened to deport international students. Nevertheless, the reversal has relieved many of the anxieties of international students as they brace for the upcoming fall semester amid a global pandemic.