ICE Threatens to Deport International Students Taking Online Courses (Video)

It is unknown what post-COVID education will look like in America.

Yet in a month colleges and universities are expected to begin their fall semesters.

Harvard University has already decided to move all classes online.

Yale is doing the same.

Some schools are planning on allowing students on campus, but capping classes at much lower percentages.

Rice University, for example, will hold classes with more than 100 students remotely.

For all its flaws and less-than-ideal teacher/student interaction, online learning helped millions of students complete their studies as the pandemic forced institutions to shut down this spring.

Of vital importance to American academia are its over one million international students–5.5 percent of the total student population–who either choose to remain here after graduation to enrich our culture, or return to their native countries to apply the skills they acquired.

But those scholars who happen to attend colleges and universities opting not to offer in-person instruction to mitigate coronavirus contagion may be looking at deportation should a policy Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday be allowed to stand.

In its latest assault on immigrants, ICE explained student F-1 and M-1 visa holders may maintain their legal status by transferring to institutions offering in-person classes.

This is particularly problematic since regulations require F-1 visa students are only permitted to enroll in a maximum of one class–three credit hours–online.

The proposed policy states some students taking online/in-person combinations will be permitted to exceed the current maximum if schools certify their courses are not exclusively held online.

F-1 students in English-language training programs and those with M-1 visas, for vocational programs, however, will not be able to enroll in any online classes.

Tennessee-based immigration attorney, Greg Siskind, warned:

“A lot of universities are totally dependent on international students to survive. That’s particularly true in science and engineering departments where Americans are not enrolling in sufficient numbers to keep departments going. This is going to result in a dramatic drop in enrollment in US schools in my view. And it’s going to cause long-term damage to our higher education system.”

Rutgers University Ph.D. candidate, Jian Ren, an international student from China, explained on Democracy Now!:

“I’m going to do oral history interviews in New Jersey locally. And I have to teach undergraduate courses next semester. I find it impossible to do it in China, a country without free internet, for online courses, for delivering all my lectures at 3 a.m. in the morning. But the instruction by the ICE only defines a student’s right to remain in the United States by courses. So, if I don’t take online courses, I cannot fulfill other research obligations by my degree.”

About the negative economic impact this policy will create, Jian Ren added:

“As a Ph.D. student, I, and maybe all Ph.D. students from overseas countries to the United States, have to teach classes. And they are responsible for undergraduate education. And they are paid by the university, so they have to pay federal taxes in the United States. And our tax rate is often higher than average Americans, because we don’t have deductions in tax return. We have some, but they are not substantial deductions like Americans have.

“In most state universities, public institutions, foreign students pay a higher tuition than American citizens in the U.S. And they actually boosted the economy around the campus, especially in college towns like New Brunswick, in New Jersey. LIke, the car dealers, the landlords, the restaurants, the supermarkets rely on foreign students to survive.”

In 2018, international students contributed about $45 billion to the American economy.

Immigration attorney and former international student from Ireland, Fiona McEntee, said:

“You can look at immigration in a number of ways. You know, you can look at the cultural aspect of the diversity, but you could also look at it economically. And foreign students contribute about $41 billion per year to the U.S. economy. But just by being here, they created over 450,000 jobs. So, that’s by, you know, food services, healthcare.

“I mean, I’ve been contacted by landlords who have been saying, ‘What am I going to do? Foreign students are my tenants, and now they’re going to be deported, or they’re going to have to leave.’”

“So, I mean, it doesn’t make sense from an economic point of view. Right now, with the situation, the economy is, like—needs a boost. And I just don’t understand why now we would decide to expel foreign students here, when they contribute so much to the U.S.”

Among myriad enforcement issues is the question of who is responsible for monitoring students’ adherence to the ICE policy.

Will educational institutions be expected to grant ICE access to students’ schedules or transcripts?

Will the institutions themselves have to report to ICE any students violating the policy?

Will all students enrolled in online classes be subjected to surveillance, or only those with “foreign-sounding” names?

Another issue is the pandemic’s impact on travel.

Every European country has closed its borders to Americans and Asians.

Jian Ren, being from China, explained:

“So, with the pandemic and the authoritarian U.S.–China relations in the current moment, there is virtually no flights between China and the U.S., only two or four per week. And the one-way economy-class tickets cost Chinese students more than $10,000 U.S. So, if mass deportation begins, it’s nearly impossible for hundreds of thousands of Chinese students to go home, with both Chinese government and the U.S. government policy to manipulate flight tickets at this moment. And if the U.S. government is going to implement mass deportations by itself, it would be a heavy tax burden for average U.S. taxpayers.”

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have just filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, and 99 members of Congress led by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren have submitted a written demand to ICE to withdraw the policy.

On Thursday, California became the first state to join in suing the administration.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.