Student Activists Push Universities to Defy ICE Order on International Students

A DHS rule would bar foreign students from obtaining visas if classes are all online

University of California-Berkeley / Getty Images
July 8, 2020

Students are pushing universities to create small, in-person classes designed to circumvent new government regulations that block international students from obtaining visas if their classes are exclusively online.

Activists at the University of California-Berkeley, New York University, and Ohio State University want their colleges to sponsor in-person classes to help international students remain in the United States. The demands come after Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alongside the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, announced international students must return to their home countries if their college courses are held exclusively online. Student visas will not be renewed unless the student can prove that they are physically required on campus.

In a since-deleted tweet, a UC-Berkeley rising senior posted a message detailing students' scheme to avoid ICE/DHS guidelines.

"Berkeley students are creating a 1-unit, in-person, student-run class to help international students avoid deportation due to the new ICE regulations," the student tweeted. "Love my school sometimes." The student did not respond to requests for comment.

The attached message said that the student-created class will take place in the anthropology department and will be offered to international students only. The message also claims a faculty member will sponsor this class but did not list the faculty member's name. The UC-Berkeley anthropology department did not respond to requests for comment.

Many American colleges sent students home following the spread of coronavirus to avoid outbreaks on campus. As the fall semester looms, however, many universities are debating whether to move to online-only education. The Trump administration's policy is driving some universities to get creative with the reopening process.

Columbia University announced it will provide a hybrid learning experience of in-person and remote classes and claims this will "alleviate the negative effects of these new [ICE/DHS] regulations." In a public statement, Columbia president Lee Bollinger said the "Columbia Global Centers," which are international outposts for the school—with locations in Beijing, Mumbai, and Paris, among others—could "provide in-person academic and peer engagement" for international students unable to return to campus. The university did not respond to requests for comment.

NYU has yet to formally announce whether hybrid courses will take place in the fall. In response, student activists created a resources page with instructions on where to send letters demanding hybrid classes, a breakdown of the ICE/DHS policy, petitions to sign, and a list of in-person classes. The page promotes a petition that calls on the university to officially adopt a hybrid approach to "support its international students." The petition dismissed the ICE/DHS policy as "inherently xenophobic, nationalist, and racist."

"We must remember that unless we are a part of the indigenous community, we are also immigrants to this country," the petition reads. "It is up to us, especially US citizens, to fight against a policy that will disproportionately affect students who may not have the luxury of leaving the United States due to a myriad of reasons." The petition organizer did not respond to a request for comment.

At Ohio State University, a similar letter from students calls on the university to uphold hybrid learning to help international students. Letter organizer and international student community member Jacob Chang told the Washington Free Beacon that he is worried students stuck in their home countries will not be able to adequately learn, particularly Chinese students.

"I think it is really important for international students to be able to stay in the U.S. because this is literally during the middle of the pandemic. ... Traveling around the world increases the chance of infection for students," Chang said. "At the same time, students who will be taking online classes back home will be suffering from internet bans—[for] example, China—technological issues, [and] time zone conflicts. It will be hard for them to catch up with their American peers."

Petitions and demands for hybrid learning come alongside a lawsuit from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology challenging the ICE/DHS policy. Cornell University president Martha Pollack, whose school joined an amicus brief in support of the litigation, said Cornell's international students will "largely not be negatively affected" by the new regulations but said she stands "in the strongest opposition to this recent policy decision."  According to Harvard spokesman Jason Newton, the schools believe the ICE/DHS policy violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

"The Harvard/MIT suit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief preventing the government from enforcing the policy announced in ICE's July 6 Directive because it violates the Administrative Procedures Act," Newton told the Free Beacon.

An ICE spokesman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. DHS did not respond to requests for comment.