My phone started buzzing in the evening last Monday, with NAFSA members calling to ask, "Did you hear the news from ICE?" and "What can we do to protect international students?" Within hours of the new July 6 guidance from ICE mandating that international students take at least one in-person class this fall or risk losing their immigration status, NAFSAns were hard at work determining how many students were affected and how to provide advice and support.
We are in the midst of two global pandemics: COVID-19 and racism. Institutions of higher education are struggling to confront the challenges of both. As colleges and universities work to develop a safe, healthy, and welcoming campus for students this fall, they are also grappling with what it means to challenge structural and systemic racism inside and outside of the classroom. International students are crucial in our efforts to create sustained dialogue on both subjects. In addition to making vital contributions to campus intellectual and social life, international students' personal experiences and perspectives invigorate the difficult and courageous conversations that promote mutual understanding and make U.S. higher education so unique.
The ICE guidelines not only force institutions to choose between public health and the student experience, they also send a chilling message to international students that their status and presence in the United States could be revoked at any time. This message is counterproductive to attracting international students, whose knowledge and expertise are crucial to helping colleges and universities lead in tackling the most vexing questions of our time across disciplines.
International students deserve the same flexibility that other students have to shape their educational path based on course content, not only on what is offered in person. They deserve the stability of knowing that they are not subject to the rapidly changing visa and travel restrictions between countries.
To help us advocate for international students, NAFSAns should continue to voice their concerns about the ICE guidelines with your institution's leadership and your congressional representatives, follow the NAFSA advocacy team's action alerts, and encourage your institutional leadership to sign onto an urgent letter to Congress from higher education universities and colleges (the deadline July 15).
There is no place for xenophobia in higher education or public health policy. Many international students are also people of color, which is why it's crucial for us to view the anti-immigrant and "pandemic denial" rhetoric with the same critical lens and strengthen our resolve to confront them with our fact-based advocacy resources. This week has demonstrated yet again how quickly NAFSAns can come together to advocate for international education's core values. Let's continue to work together to make sure that our institutions are welcoming and supportive learning environments for international students.