Stanford must protect international students from ICE deportation

July 8, 2020, 9:12 a.m.

On Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a rule requiring international students on F-1 and M-1 visas to take classes in person this fall or else leave the country. This policy could affect over 1 million international students in the US. If ICE does not revoke this ruling, Stanford must act in the next seven days to protect its 25 percent international student body.

Normally, the ICE Student and Exchange Visa Program (SEVP) requires that international students enroll in a “full course of study,” defined as at least 12 credits for university undergraduates, with no more than 3 of those credits taken online. In March, SEVP issued a temporary exemption allowing students to remain active even if they were taking more than 3 credits online. 

However, on July 6, ICE announced three modifications to the March 9 temporary exemptions. Students on F-1 and M-1 visas attending:

  1. Online-only schools (8% of colleges as of July 7, including Harvard, USC, and UCLA) must leave the country or face deportation;
  2. Schools operating in person (59% of colleges as of July 7, including Emory, Purdue, and Texas A&M) may take a maximum of one class or 3 credit hours online (reverting back to the existing federal regulations); and
  3. Schools on a hybrid model of online and in-person classes (25% of colleges as of July 7, including Stanford, Berkeley, and MIT) must confirm “that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.”

Stanford’s current plan for reopening is a hybrid model that hosts two class cohorts per quarter across four quarters: juniors and seniors in the winter and spring, bookended by freshmen and sophomores in the fall and summer quarters. “Our default scenario… would allow all Stanford undergraduates to complete two quarters of instruction in residence on the Stanford campus in 2020-21, and require most to complete at least one quarter remotely,” Marc Tessier-Lavigne wrote in a letter to Stanford parents.

Stanford’s plan is incompatible with the new ICE restrictions. With the new restrictions, Stanford must prove that students on campus have at least some in-person instruction. All international undergraduates will now be forced to take at least two international flights — four flights, for freshmen and sophomores — if they wish to attend on-campus quarters. Travel will be exceedingly difficult given current international travel restrictions. Stanford will not be able to support international students who need stable housing accommodations for the online half of the year, as those students must depart the country or face deportation. 

But this is not just a problem for international students. This policy is not in the interest of limiting the spread of COVID-19. It forces active students whose colleges have adopted online-only instruction to travel abroad, not only exposing those students to risks, but also spreading disease from the country with the most confirmed total and new COVID-19 cases in the world.  Either ICE failed to think of this consequence, or its restrictions are a reflection of the myopic America-first mentality of the Trump administration, spreading our problems to the rest of the world with little regard for the negative implications outside America. 

Schools will be incentivized to provide more in-person instruction this fall, if they wish to keep international students in the country (and many schools and communities may be financially driven to retain some of the $45 billion that international students contribute to the economy annually). More person-to-person exposure is the last thing our country needs as we continue to break COVID-19 records

This policy sets a precedent for restrictive and discriminatory immigration policies that are evocative of historical exclusionary immigration acts, such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. It’s no secret that the majority of international students are from China or India. The recent trend of xenophobia is troubling and leaves us in fear of what will come next. The ICE ruling arrives hot on the heels of Trump’s June 22 executive order, which extends a freeze on Green Cards for new immigrants and suspends H-1B and other temporary work visas through the end of 2020. Most U.S. embassies and consulates in other countries have been completely closed since March or operate on a limited emergency-only basis, ceasing visa processing. Will the over 220,000 students on Optional Practice Training (OPT) extensions of student visas be asked to leave as well? Asking OPT students to leave the country could rob them of their chance to obtain a visa and stay in the US post-COVID.

We believe that the ICE policy is radical discrimination against international students who bring crucial diversity and dynamic perspectives to universities. If this policy’s intent were to stop the spread of COVID, it would not demand for existing students to travel out of the country at this time. At the very least, it should apply only to new students. Perhaps we should look to other countries for guidance. The UK policy requires international arrivals to self-isolate for the first 14 days upon arrival but thereafter welcomes students, stating “we are proud that so many international students choose to study here each year.”

We must act quickly to protect Stanford’s international students. Stanford should not merely “urge the [Trump] Administration to rethink its position“; it should use its authority as a leading academic institution to demand complete revocation of these modifications. Simultaneously, Stanford should clarify whether the current hybrid plan is sufficient to let students stay in the US. If not, the university’s administration should complete an operational change plan that allows international students to be enrolled in person for all three quarters and submit it to [email protected] no later than Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in accordance with the policy. As individuals, we can take action by signing this Stanford petition to protect Stanford international students and this White House petition to allow students with F-1 and M-1 visas to stay in the US.

Our parents, first-generation immigrants, came to this country in pursuit of higher education and a better life. But this America is not the America they came to live in. This environment traps young adults thousands of miles apart from their families, waking up from a dream that turned into a nightmare overnight. We must do all we can to stop the disruption of their academic progress and safety.

Contact Annika Mulaney at amulaney ‘at’ and Bianca Mulaney at bmulaney ‘at’

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