Trump administration attack on international students draws anger and sorrow

Students, professors and university officials across the nation reacted with sadness and outrage on Wednesday to a decision by the Trump Administration that threatens international students who plan to take online courses in the fall.

On Monday, contrary to the President’s past pronouncements on international students, ICE announced those on F-1 and M-1 visas must leave the United States or transfer to another college if their schools go online-only due to COVID-19. If the students don’t comply, they could face deportation proceedings. 

Even students at universities like the University of Miami and Florida International University, where there will be a mix of on-campus and online, might be deported if none of their courses are on-campus.  

“This announcement was nothing short of heartbreaking,” said FIU senior Alejandra Rocha, 22, who is from Venezuela and has studied here for the last five years. “I can’t believe I am being forced to choose between risking my own health or continuing my education. My program is offering very few face-to-face classes, so as of right now, it is almost impossible for me to change my schedule,”

The decision comes in the midst of a pandemic, just as tens of thousands of students and scores of universities are trying to assemble class schedules for the fall.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the federal government in Boston Wednesday, alleging the government had violated students and universities’ rights. Cornell University joined that suit.

In a letter to students Tuesday, that university’s president, Martha Pollack, wrote: “Our international students contribute daily to the diversity, excellence and global engagement of our university. To each of our international students, I want to say directly: You belong here, and we will fight for you to be here.”

In Miami students and their advisors worked furiously to find ways around the federal mandate. 

Carlos Castillo, 21, is a Colombian senior studying biology at the University of Miami. The Bogotá native is set to graduate in the fall and plans to continue his education by going to medical school.

“It is hard to explain the difficulties of being an international student to those who are not,” he said. “We pay double the tuition of local students and have to work twice as hard. All my hard work is now being rewarded with a ban. I am being kicked out for something I don’t even have control of.” 

Twitter was full of similar sentiments. Ankit Bhardwaj, an NYU international student from India, reflected on what it feels like to be a visa holder constantly worrying about your future and legal status:

A 2015 tweet from the President also generated an uproar on social media. Students from all over the country criticized ICE’s decision claiming that it reflected the exact opposite of what Trump had promoted in the past.

President Trump has urged schools and universities to return to in-person learning as soon as possible. After ICE’s announcement on Monday, he tweeted that opening up schools is important for families and the economy, threatening to end funding for schools that don’t follow his advice. Critics argued that this move against international students is part of the administration’s push to reopen schools and universities. 

In a letter to students and faculty Wednesday, FIU President Mark Rosenberg committed to offer required courses in both face-to-face and hybrid formats, as well as ensure newly enrolled international students are able to begin their studies in the fall. “At FIU we pride ourselves in our global and multicultural educational environment aimed at increasing understanding in the world. International is not just our middle name.”

The new federal guidance on international students forces universities to choose between sacrificing some students’ health and sending them home. Fully remote learning means that students will be forced to travel to their home countries in the middle of a global pandemic.

“There is so much to consider. Time differences, resources that are blocked in certain countries, websites that cannot be accessed. . . students won’t be getting the same quality of education if they are forced to leave.” said FIU’s Alejandra Rocha. “I came to the United  States in search of a better education and a better life. . . Where exactly am I supposed to go?”

Luisa Peixoto is a junior Digital Media student at Florida International University's School of Communication + Journalism. She was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil and moved to Miami to start her undergraduate education. She's an avid music lover and spends most of her time keeping up with news on what is happening around the world. Luisa is also passionate about photography, filmmaking, content creation and social media strategy. In the future, she hopes to use her skills and knowledge to write articles and produce digital media content on politics and economics.