We Heart: Colleges Fight Back to Save International Students From Deportation

We Heart: Colleges Fight Back to Save International Students From Deportation
Colleges and universities around the U.S.—like Harvard (pictured)—are getting creative to fight back against ICE’s decision to deport international students taking their classes entirely online. (Anne Helmond / Flickr)

International students and their domestic peers are taking a stand against immigration restrictions that threaten to revoke visas of students around the country.

On Monday, July 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—along with the Trump administration—announced that F1 student visas would no longer be valid for international students taking their classes entirely online. Under this regulation, international students without in-person classes currently residing in the U.S. face deportation.

ICE’s sudden order came as many colleges began announcing their intention to provide online-only instruction during the fall, in an effort to protect students amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Colleges and universities have interpreted the regulation as a push by the Trump administration to encourage institutions to fully reopen and provide in-person classes—showing a complete lack of “regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors and others,” according to Harvard President Larry Bacow.

International students in the U.S. amidst a pandemic are now faced with a dangerous predicament. For many, it is difficult—even impossible—to safely return home. The State Department has labeled all international travel as a Level 4 Global Health Risk, recommending that people within the U.S. do not attempt international travel.

Moreover, many countries, particularly in the EU, have greatly restricted travel from the U.S., which could pose difficulties for students attempting to return home.

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Additionally, many of these students have already arranged for U.S. living arrangements for the fall, and the deportation order disrupts those plans. Others simply feel that it will be much more difficult to attend online classes and submit classwork abroad, especially with time zone differences.

However, colleges and college students around the U.S. are getting creative to fight back against these restrictions.

Here are some of the legal and imaginative efforts they are taking to help international students stay in the country:

Suing the Trump Administration

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have sued the Trump administration for implementing this rule. Harvard has already announced its plans to use entirely online instruction—but that now means that its 5,000 international students will not be able to reside in the country.

In the lawsuit, the schools argue ICE’s regulation creates an “untenable situation,” making it impossible to find a solution. The lawsuit also underscores that only “weeks from the start of the fall semester, these students are largely unable to transfer to universities providing on-campus instruction,” and are therefore left with no choice but to leave the country.

Widespread, Collaborative Resource Sharing

Students at NYU have compiled resources and email templates to encourage the university to adopt a hybrid model for courses next year—meaning some classes would be taught online, and some would be in-person, thus enabling international students to stay on campus.

The letter templates point out the “academic, financial and emotional strain” that deportation will put on students, as well as how this regulation is an example of the many “anti-immigration policy modifications from the Trump administration.” Students at other colleges and universities have created similar email templates to share the message.

UC students have created comprehensive spreadsheets listing the on-campus class offerings. Domestic and international students are now using the spreadsheets to swap classes to ensure that international students are able to register for at least one on-campus class.

At UC Berkley, students have also suggested holding student-led classes, held outside, for international students to enroll in.

“Sanctuary” Schools

Other colleges, such as Hampshire College in Massachusetts, have offered to provide sanctuary to international students from other schools. Hampshire College will be using hybrid classes in the fall, and has volunteered to enroll international students from other colleges who would otherwise be deported.

In a time of so much uncertainty, it is uplifting to see students and colleges working to protect their international student populations. Amidst a pandemic, it is important schools prioritize the safety of their students—something the Trump administration is making difficult to accomplish.

Students and administrations around the country are working to create solutions that will keep their student bodies safe during the pandemic, while simultaneously helping to keep international students from being deported.

As colleges finalize their plans for the upcoming school year, they must protect the more than one million international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. These students are essential members of college student populations and their surrounding communities—we must fight to help them stay in the country.


Marissa Talcott is a rising sophomore at Claremont McKenna College majoring in Philosophy and Public Affairs. She is a Ms. editorial and social media intern.