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Backlash escalates against Trump’s new visa policy for international students

Harvard University

Denver, US, | XINHUA | Voices against the Trump administration’s recent visa restriction for foreign students continued loudly, as hundreds of thousands of Americans had signed petitions by Friday night, condemning the move.

“This is the real American silent majority,” Washington policy analyst Dave Richardson told Xinhua. “They are educated, informed, and good citizens — and they have had enough of (President Donald) Trump’s xenophobic tactics targeting foreigners.”

VOLATILE ACADEMIC WEEK

On Tuesday, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that students currently in the United States on F-1 and M-1 visas “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status,” if their school’s classes are entirely online in the fall semester.

Anyone found violating the rules, ICE said, would risk “immigration consequences, including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the lawsuit on Wednesday by saying, “the policy speaks for itself.”

“You don’t get a visa for taking online classes from, let’s say, the University of Phoenix, so why would you if you were just taking online classes generally?” she said at a press conference.

In academic circles, the decision received swift condemnation.

“The order came down without notice — its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in an email to affiliates on Wednesday.

Less than a day after the Trump administration decision, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a lawsuit in the District Court in Boston against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and ICE.

The lawsuit was quickly supported by all of America’s elite top academic institutions. The University of Southern California (USC), where a total of 12,265 international students were enrolled during the 2019-20 academic year with around 7,000 from China, announced on Wednesday it had joined an amicus brief strongly supporting the lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT.

The University of California (UC) also announced plans to file suit against ICE. The UC’s 2019 fall enrollment data showed that 27,205 of the university’s 226,125 undergraduate students are non-resident international, while 13,995 of the university’s 58,941 graduate students are non-resident international.

“There’s absolutely no reason for this underlying rule. What is the issue? They are paying tuition, they are enrolled in the school program, they’re doing the exact same thing their counterpart students are doing,” said immigration lawyer Greg Siskind on Twitter, noting that the rule was essentially a new travel ban for F-1 students.

THE GROUNDSWELL

On Wednesday, sociologist Heba Gowayed, a Princeton Ph.D. whose research includes the underrepresentation of Arabs and Muslims in academic work, posted an open letter to President Donald Trump condemning the new maneuver.

The letter began with “Dear President Trump, your administration just issued a policy that forces foreign students studying in America into a gut-wrenching dilemma.”

“The Trump administration’s new policy is counterproductive, particularly when it comes to promoting safety amid the coronavirus outbreak and helping the U.S. economy recover from the pandemic,” Gowayed’s letter read.

In one day, Gowayed’s letter accumulated 15,000 signatures. It also triggered an avalanche of similar open letters to the 45th president, who ironically has encouraged such citizen statements.

By Friday night, an Open Letter Against the Student Ban posted on Google had topped 30,000 signatures from faculty at institutions across the country.

Another petition, addressed to the White House, had received 175,584 signatures by Wednesday morning, Time reported.

Over the past 48 hours, hundreds of thousands of more Americans have signed a number of petitions denouncing Trump targeting international students.

“This Trump attack on academia is just another diversionary tactic to distract people from the fact that his presidency is going down the drain — so he goes after the academic world — the smartest and wisest people in the land,” Washington policy analyst Richardson said. “Desperation politics.”

THE NUMBERS

Financially, the Commerce Department puts international student contributions to the U.S. economy at 45 billion U.S. dollars in 2018.

A 2019 report shows that 62 percent of all international students receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States.

International students effectively subsidize higher education, making substantial contributions to the costs of public universities and their domestic students.

Concerning brainpower, international students make up the majority of graduate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) enrollment, a crucial field in which the United States aims to become a “global leader.”

“In STEM fields, foreign students account for an astonishing 54 percent of master’s degrees and 44 percent of doctorate degrees issued by American universities. Many of these degree recipients choose to stay in the U.S. after they graduate, working for American companies and helping protect American economic dominance,” Gowayed’s letter said.

His letter also hammered the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

“The United States is a country that was built on immigration. Your administration is turning its back on centuries of tradition,” the letter said.

“Each person who comes to America, whether they immigrate or just stay a while, contribute in their own unique way. They bring their food, their culture, their ideas, they start businesses, they pay taxes, and they pursue the common American dream that we all share,” it added.

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