On July 14, the Trump administration, after multiple lawsuits and outrage from colleges and universities across the country, rescinded the rule in which international students would have been forced to leave the U.S if their schools did not offer face-to-face classes.
“The decision of forcing international students to leave in the first place was the dumbest idea they ever came up with,” said Admed Abbas, a UNM international student from Saudi Arabia. The news was probably a relief for a lot of us that feared such a problem to come.”
On July 6, the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agency released a new policy regarding international students in the United States that had the potential to profoundly impact the lives of more than 1.1 million international students across the country.
The policy stated that international students wouldn’t have been able to take a full online course load if they wanted to maintain their visa status.
The policy also required students whose schools had adopted a new hybrid model — that is, a mixture of online and in person classes — to take at least one class that met in person at least part of the time.
Failure to comply with those requirements could have resulted in deportation.
Unsurprisingly, many international students at UNM reacted with outrage, devastation and hopelessness before the policy was rescinded.
“I was devastated and scared when they initiated the new policy — it really put me in so many emotions. One of the biggest fears a lot of us have, including me, is deportation,” Abbas said. “It seemed like my dreams were (being) threatened because of a policy. It put me in a depressive mindset that I might lose everything I have worked hard for.”
According to NAFSA’s Economic Value Tool, international students studying at U.S colleges and universities contributed $41 billion to the U.S economy during the 2018-19 academic year and supported 458,290 jobs. UNM’s international population alone contributed $43.9 million to the local economy and supported 457 jobs.
The possible loss of such economic stimulus could have been the biggest push universities needed to fight back against the rule.
On July 12, a coalition of 59 universities filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the Trump administration from executing the deportation of international students at colleges that will opt against in-person classes this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The next day, 18 states (including New Mexico) filed a similar lawsuit, calling the regulation an “insuperable burden” for international students.
“I am alarmed that ICE would issue such guidance — a deliberate slap at the international students who are such a vital part of the University of New Mexico, where they conduct important research and contribute to our classroom culture,” UNM President Garnett Stokes wrote in her weekly communique.
Before the policy was reversed, international students all over the country shared their outrage and fear through social media where they found support and rose awareness of their struggle.
One international student shared her feelings on TikTok, where her video currently has over 1.6 million views and more than 152,400 likes.
“The only thing that was constant in my life was my education, and now you’re taking it away from me,” said the TikTok user in her video. “I’ve been in this country for six years … I have never felt so vulnerable as I’m feeling today, and I don’t know what to do.”
An open letter also circulated amongst international students condemning the previous ICE decision, and another online petition asked that international students be allowed to finish their degrees. The petition was created on July 6 and surpassed its goal of 100,000 signatures with over 184,000 within days.
The outpouring of public condemnation likely contributed to the administration's decision to reverse course. However, the lawsuits likely deserve the lion’s share of the credit.
The announcement of the policy reversal lasted less than four minutes and was made “without explanation in a hearing with U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs, according to court documents, as part of a lawsuit brought by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Now, international students all over the U.S. and at UNM are breathing a sigh of relief thanks to the rescinding of the previous restrictions imposed by ICE.
"We are happy that they reversed it," GPSA President Nikhil Reddy, an international student from India, told the Daily Lobo. "I know many international students, including myself, are less worried now."
“Now with the update, I feel more secure and less vulnerable,” said Pratyush Yadav, a UNM international student from India. “I can continue with my original plans. However, I feel it’s sad that the threat of a lawsuit was required to get this administration to do the right thing.”
But just like the pandemic, the situation is quite unpredictable. Some international students may still be deterred from coming to UNM.
U.S. consulates worldwide have been closed for visa services since March and are just now starting to reopen this week.
“The United States (also) continues to ban travel from much of Europe and Asia; other countries have restricted travel to the U.S. and some students may decide on their own to stay home, given this country’s role as the leading hot spot in the pandemic,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Despite the remaining barriers for international students, Stokes released a statement about the reversal at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday lauding the policy reversal.
“Our international students make our University, our state and our nation richer and more diverse,” Stokes said. “As Lobos, and as New Mexicans, we have always embraced the differences that make us individually unique and woven them together to create a stronger, more diverse and cohesive community — a community that continues to warmly welcome students from cultures around the globe.”
Annya Loya is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annyaloyadl