AU backs lawsuit challenging Trump administration rule on international students

Rule would make students leave the US if they take only online classes

AU backs lawsuit challenging Trump administration rule on international students

The Mary Graydon Center, pictured in 2016. 

AU, along with 58 other universities, are opposing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement that could make international students leave the country if they take all online classes.

A statement signed by eight Patriot League University presidents, including AU President Sylvia Burwell said, “We are committed to supporting legal and lobbying efforts to oppose this damaging policy … as well as to fully supporting the international students and faculty on our campuses.”

For a hybrid model, which AU is planning for, the guidelines say that the University and student must ensure that, “the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.” 

However, if the University transitions to fully online at any point during the semester, students must leave the country.

Many students are grappling with what these guidelines mean for their lives and educational experiences. 

“There are a lot of remaining questions that have to be answered on the side of ICE,” said Fanta Aw, AU’s vice president of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence. “All universities are asking for clarification on a lot of things that the guidance has come up with.”

Christina Kirkham, a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences from the United Kingdom, said that she has an apartment with most of her stuff still in it and, since the pandemic hit, she has not been able to return to the U.S. 

“I came home with two suitcases. My whole life is there,” Kirkham said, referring to D.C. 

Kirkham said that she was planning on going to graduate school in the U.S. and wanted to apply for permanent residency.

“Right now, it feels like I’ve been stripped of all choice and it feels like I have no say, my voice doesn't really matter,” Kirkham said. “No one is really hearing me when I say that my life will be completely changed forever if I’m not able to go back to the U.S.”

In an email to the University on Wednesday, Aw said, “We are deeply dismayed and disappointed that, in the midst of a pandemic, a guidance has been issued that amplifies fear, uncertainty and anxiety among our international students and fails to recognize the complex and changing realities of their current situation.”

Shagun Gupta, a Ph.D. student in SIS, who is originally from India, noted that for Ph.D. and graduate students, their employment is also dependent on their ability to remain in the U.S. and attend school.

“Ph.D. students are also workers; that's a very strong part of what we do,” Gupta said. “Our job is research, and we get paid to do that. So if there's a break in our assignment because we are abroad, it will affect our ability to pay for our expenses, whether we are in D.C. or anywhere else in the world. We still need to pay rent and eat food.” 

Frieder Dengler, a Ph.D. student in SIS, discussed how these policies have lasting effects on students who have families in the U.S. Dengler is engaged and planned on getting married last spring, but he had to cancel his wedding due to the coronavirus. Now, he and his partner face the possibility of being separated if he has to return to Germany. 

“There's an assumption that we are much more mobile and flexible than we actually are,” Dengler said. “But, especially if you are older and have established your existence here, you can't just go back to your home country on short notice.”

Dengler also cited the financial burdens that these guidelines might put on students, including having to book last-minute flights and possibly having to abandon leases or continue to pay rent for empty homes.

Gupta and Dengler said that they were happy to see AU sign on to the Harvard University/MIT lawsuit; however, they would have liked to have seen this action from the University earlier. 

Originally from Sierra Leone, but now a six-year resident of Maryland, Quanuah Creighton-Randall is a rising senior in the School of Public Affairs. When she and her family moved to the U.S. during the 2014 Ebola crisis, they originally had temporary protected status, but then Creighton-Randall and her mother obtained temporary student visas. This allowed Creighton-Randall and her two younger siblings to stay in the U.S. Creighton-Randall’s mother went to AU for her master’s degree and is pursuing her Ph.D. elsewhere.

Creighton-Randall discussed what losing her visa status would mean to her and her family. 

“It would just hurt so much. I've already been uprooted in my life before. We already had that feeling of being displaced,” Creighton-Randall said. “It’s like they tell us to do it properly and do it the right way, but it’s clear that they just don't want us here. We are following every rule in the book and you still just don’t want us here.”

Denise Moyo, a rising senior in CAS who is originally from Zimbabwe, echoed these ideas, saying, “We invest in the U.S. because we have to. We're welcomed when we are giving our money, but we’re not welcomed when it comes to surviving a pandemic.”

“It really changes my perspective of America because I’m fully aware that it’s my privilege to be able to quote, unquote, do the thing right,” Moyo said. “That privilege that allows us to get the response from Yale, from Harvard, from NYU, from AU and knowing that, it's not because you see what's wrong with what's happening, but it's a matter of, international students pay a big check to these schools.”

An email sent to students from AU’s International Student and Scholar Services said that if AU moves fully online again, students would either be able to transfer to a different school with in-person instruction or leave the U.S. immediately.

Silvia Hernandez Benito, a rising junior from Spain said, “Because this announcement was made so late in the summer, there's no time for international students to even have the option to transfer. Transfer deadlines for so many universities are in March or April.”

Hernandez Benito does not think she will be able to return to the U.S. at all in the fall because her visa expired in May, and the U.S. Embassy in Spain was closed due to government restrictions caused by the coronavirus. The embassy is gradually resuming services, according to its website.

She said that the earliest the embassy could give her an appointment was in January 2021, so she will likely lose her immigration status and have to reapply. 

Hernandez Benito worked with a few friends to put together an email to the AU administration asking them to do more for international students. 

“We were all so overwhelmed, it's unnecessary, it's unfair, it's dangerous, it bars us from re- entering the U.S. or it threatens us with deportation for those who are already in the U.S.,” Hernandez Benito said.

Many students shared online petitions and information on how non-international students can help support their classmates. 

“It's great to see U.S. students who are in solidarity with international students,” Aw said. “Use your voice and use your Congress people; you have avenues that are not available to international students.”

Students suggested that AU ensure that international students have access to at least one in-person class. 

“Even one face-to-face class can mean that we’re in the U.S. To me that could mean the difference between two completely different lives,” Kirkham said

aveitch@theeagleonline.com

Never miss a story

Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

More from The Eagle