Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
When I heard about the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement that international students will not be allowed to stay in the country if they have a fully online fall course load, I immediately thought of so many of my friends at the University of Maryland who could be forced to leave the country. All of them are heartbroken and incredibly stressed about the announcement — which seems to stem from a broader ham-fisted effort by the federal government to not only expel foreigners, but to pressure universities into reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bind international students are currently in should concern all of us. International students are a hugely important part of our university community, and forcing them to leave the country during a pandemic has the potential to endanger their health and derail their studies. No student should be forced to scramble to find ways to continue their studies, especially during such a crisis. This university should therefore prioritize providing in-person class and independent study options for international students, continue to lobby Congressional representatives to pressure ICE to rescind their regulation and ensure international students are kept informed and supported.
So far, 99 members of Congress have signed onto a letter urging ICE to withdraw this rule, a number of prominent universities have sued the Trump administration and university President Darryl Pines has expressed his solidarity with international students, as well as the administration’s resolve to seek out solutions.
It’s good to know that this university and others stand behind international students. But it’s worrisome that international students at this university will have just over a month from when the university announces which classes will be online on July 15 to either transfer to an institution offering in-person classes, find a way to take in-person classes or leave the country.
This is why it is so important for the university to reach out to every academic department to ensure international students will have options to take classes in person that will allow them to remain in the United States. Dana Fisher, a sociology professor at this university, has offered anyone needing an in-person class to contact her for an independent study, and I encourage other university professors who have the capacity to follow suit. Additionally, students whose stay in the U.S. is not threatened by online classes should send an email to trusted professors and to department heads to request in-person class options for international students.
While Pines did state that the university is working with Congressional representatives to protect the immigration statuses of international undergraduate and graduate students, it’s important that the university continues to remain firm in this regard and to provide updates and resources for international students to make informed decisions about their options with accessible support from the university. Aside from the difficulties many international students encounter with having to complete their classes online in their home countries, many international graduate students face the risk of losing graduate assistantships if they are forced to return home. Given that in the spring of 2019 over half of the university’s international students were graduate students, forcing international students to return home will derail study and employment plans for many, and it could impact courses that have international graduate student teaching assistants. These students should be supported and guided as much as possible as the university continues to fight for their ability to remain in the United States.
Ultimately, there is no telling what will happen to international students in the next month, or how many will be allowed to stay. Decisions on which classes will go online have yet to be announced, and even then, international students will have limited time and options to fight to stay in the country. International students make up an important part of the university community, and non-international students and the administration need to band together and fight to keep them here.
Caterina Ieronimo is a rising junior government and politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.