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Wednesday, August 5

Today's Paper

Princeton must fight for its international students

<p>The Louis A. Simpson Building, which houses the Davis International Center</p>
<h6>Photo Credit: Jon Ort</h6>

The Louis A. Simpson Building, which houses the Davis International Center

Photo Credit: Jon Ort

On July 6, the same day the University announced its plans for the upcoming academic year, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released updated policies that severely limit the possibilities for international students to remain in and return to the United States during the upcoming academic year. During the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, exceptions had been made to allow students to remain in the United States while still taking a fully online course load, something that would not be permitted under normal circumstances. However, these concessions have now been struck down and replaced with the following guideline: if your school is only going to offer online teaching, you are not allowed to remain in the United States.

However, the devil is in the details, and these new guidelines are anything but detailed. This simplistic approach to policy fails to address the diverse circumstances that international students face during the current pandemic. Under these new guidelines, students are permitted to stay if they are enrolled in at least one in-person class at their university. On the flip side, the ICE guideline also prohibits international students from continuing their studies remotely from their home country if they are offered any in-person teaching. Therefore, it seems the University will have to make categorical decisions under this guideline. For example, under the current plan, all international freshmen and juniors will first be forced to study on campus during the fall, and subsequently forced to leave the country in the spring. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, this will pose significant difficulties for many international students. We urge the University to stand with its international students and to publicly fight this egregious ICE policy.

Many countries have closed their borders or significantly restricted traffic through their frontiers, measures that could last for the next several months. This creates a situation where several students cannot fly to or from the United States without facing significant risks of being denied passage. Currently — at Princeton and at other schools — international students have scattered unevenly, some remaining in the United States during the summer and others electing to remain in their countries. Under the recently released policies, all of these students’ relocation decisions will no longer be theirs to make, and many will be forced to rapidly travel in the middle of this pandemic. 

The question of en masse travel also raises several public health concerns. The United States cannot claim to be implementing these guidelines for the sake of public health because it actively exposes students to environments where they can easily spread or contract the virus during their forced travels. As cases in the United States increase, the country runs the risk of exporting even more vectors for this virus into the world. In the opposite scenario, the United States is running the risk of importing new cases of COVID-19.

Apart from these two broad issues, there are many more important considerations. International students have been particularly vulnerable to financial and housing insecurity during this pandemic. These new regulations fail to account for any of these issues. Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken T. Cuccinelli recently stated in an interview that “there isn’t a reason” for international students to remain in the United States if their institution adopts virtual learning. These declarations expose a deep ignorance and disregard toward the many sacrifices and logistical concerns international students must undergo to study in the United States. Many have planned to remain based in the United States during the duration of their studies, often kept from return for a myriad of reasons: homelessness, lack of appropriate resources, unsupportive home environments, poor internet infrastructure, and even unstable national situations. This and the varying degrees of cooperation that their home countries have with the United States also means they could be at risk of losing their immigration status, without the possibility of regaining it.

In the same interview, Cuccinelli explicitly revealed the true purpose of this directive: to “encourage schools to reopen.” This is consistent with President Trump’s misguided call for all schools and universities to open their campuses this fall. Considering these motives, the fact that the government is holding international students ransom to advance aimless policy that disregards public health standards is nothing short of unacceptable. Not only are these measures ineffective to persuade schools — as they are still subject to their states’ reopening guidelines — but they also actively perpetuate the trend of toying with the lives of visa holders and immigrants as a mere political tool in America’s turbulent political climate. Princeton University — in the Nation’s service and in the service of Humanity — has a responsibility to fight against a blatantly unethical policy that isn’t designed to perform its job. 

We urge the University to utilize its lobbying resources in Washington D.C. and its government affairs office to advocate for the elimination of this policy. Flexibility should still remain, and the University should advocate for a policy that allows students to stay in their countries or return to campus depending on their situation, without risking losing their enrollment and visa status. We ask that Princeton be exhaustive in this pursuit and explore the possibility of litigation against the Executive Branch, an avenue already pursued by Harvard and MIT.  

International students are an undeniable and fundamental part of the Princeton community. Many of them have gone to incredible lengths to come to Princeton, offering their talents, imagination, and skills to the United States, only expecting kindness, understanding, and hospitality in return. Both this country and the University have a long history of benefiting from foreign talent; international students and scholars have been part of the lifeblood of American academia since the dawn of this nation. To allow this injustice and manipulation to persist would be to watch idly as the United States is led further into isolationism and darkness.

Written by Juan José López Haddad ’22, Sten Sjöberg ’21, Gabriel Duguay ’22, and Julia Berndtsson ’23.

Undersigned by the following Princeton students and alumni:

Adrian Tong ’20 from the U.S.

Rebecca Han ’22 from the U.S.

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Erik Taylor-Lash ’21 from the U.S.

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Juan José López Haddad is a junior from Caracas, Venezuela. He can be reached at jhaddad@princeton.edu

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