Kamala Harris, Pramila Jayapal, 100 lawmakers seek reversal of new ICE rule

Photograph of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security .

Barring foreign students taking online-only classes ‘irrational, xenophobic’, say Indian-American and other Democrats.

Over a 100 Democratic lawmakers, including Indian-American Kamala Harris and Pramila Jayapal, have come out in support of a million plus foreign students panic stricken over a ban on those taking online-only classes.

The lone Indian-American senator Harris and Representative Jayapal from  Washington state joined 98 of their colleagues in writing an open letter to two immigration agencies seeking withdrawal of new rules issued on Monday.

The new guidance “imperils the status of international students who would be studying online at US institutions this coming academic year,” they wrote in the letter to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The new ICE guidelines ask foreign students attending colleges and universities offering only online courses to leave the US or risk deportation and bar entry of those planning to take such classes in 2020 fall semester.

They also require that they transfer to an institution offering in-person instruction or risk “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

The guidance threatens international students on F-1 visas (for full-time study at an academic institution) and M-1 visas (for vocational or other nonacademic training) with deportation if they do not comply with the requirement that they take in-person classes, the letter noted.

The lawmakers expressed “deep concerns that ICE’s guidance is motivated not by public health considerations, but rather by animus toward non-citizens and immigrants.”

The letter describes it as “a flagrant attempt to hold international students hostage in order to force schools to reopen even as covid-19 cases are rising.”

The 2018-2019 academic year saw more than one million international students in the United States, they noted.

“ICE’s announcement of their plans to force out or deport international students who remain at US colleges and universities and who are taking a full online course load is cruel and unconscionable,” the lawmakers wrote.

“These students are already in the United States, are established members of educational communities, and have been determined through the visa screening process to pose no danger to the United States.”

“We call out this policy for what it is: a cruel, senseless, and xenophobic attempt to use non-citizens as political pawns in order to financially coerce colleges and universities to reopen campuses this fall, despite what is best for public health,” the lawmakers continued.

“This policy is dangerous to the health and well-being of numerous communities.”

Some colleges and universities, they noted, have transitioned to online learning due to the pandemic, consistent with guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC, the lawmakers wrote, recognizes the diversity of various institutions of higher education and advises them to “adjust to meet the unique needs and circumstances” they face when trying to keep their communities safe.

New ICE guidelines altering the Student and Exchange Visitor Program’s requirements for international students, impose “a one-size-fits-all standard on all colleges and universities,” the lawmakers said.

“Due to the Trump Administration’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic, covid-19 continues to rage throughout the US, causing many institutions of higher education to move most or all of their courses online to protect their students, faculty, and staff” they wrote.

READ MORE: India fears return of students from US over new rule (July 9, 2020)

“Some colleges developed these plans in consultation with local public health officials, and these plans are consistent with the CDC’s guidance for colleges and universities, which advises them to “offer virtual learning and telework options, if feasible,” the lawmakers noted.

“Although the Trump Administration is attempting to blame this new guidance on existing regulations, it is failing to preserve or pursue options to provide flexibility to international students and to institutions of higher education.”

“At the same time, recent statements by Administration officials suggest that DHS and ICE released this guidance as a pretext to force institutions of higher education to reopen against the advice of public health experts and local officials,” the lawmakers suggested.

In addition to urging ICE and DHS to rescind this policy immediately, the lawmakers requested a staff briefing to discuss the Administration’s rationale for this reckless policy by July 16.

The letter was also signed among others by Senators Charles Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Edward Markey, Jeff Merkley, and Richard Blumenthal along with Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Jerrold Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Joe Neguse, Katherine Clark, and Seth Moulton.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association also supports their letter, the lawmakers said.


Harvard, MIT sue US authorities for barring online-only foreign students (July 8, 2020)

US says foreign students still welcome despite new rule (July 8, 2020)

Foreign students face deportation if US schools go online (July 7, 2020)

Indian students asked to stay in touch with schools regarding OPT (June 18, 2020)

Canada leads the way in attracting and assimilating international students (May 13, 2020)

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