We Don’t Belong Here

The new directives from Immigration and Customs Enforcement make it clear that we aren't welcome in the U.S., writes international student Musbah Shaheen.

July 14, 2020
 
 
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The new regulations that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has issued about international students like me are xenophobic. Period.

The Trump administration has touted the need for bringing the brightest minds to the United States and advancing the status of the nation as a world leader in all areas of life.

President Trump has also emphasized the need for the economy to swiftly recover from the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdown. In fact, it seems as if his entire re-election campaign is based on the premise of his success in growing the economy, an argument that now falls flat given most recent economic developments.

The decision to not issue visas to prospective students unless they attend classes in person and the mandate to potentially deport students who are here if their campuses transition to a completely online format make no sense at all.

First, F-1 students are considered nonimmigrants, meaning that we have to clearly demonstrate our intent to return to our homes after the completion of our studies. We are issued visas with that explicit expectation.

Second, we international students do not receive federal financial aid, nor are we eligible for loans without an American co-signer. Internationals, therefore, are either financed by our governments, our families or other entities that typically also impose restrictions on returning home for employment after graduation.

Third, international students are only permitted to work up to 20 hours a week in an on-campus job, so we can’t bag groceries to make money. So we bring money to the U.S., stimulate the economy without “taking” any jobs from Americans and bolster the image of the United States as a “world leader.” We are, by most standards of capitalism, good for America and its colleges.

But the new ICE guidelines will create a toxic dynamic for international students, our institutions and the United States in general.

One possibility might be that institutions will refrain from offering online classes and opt to open their classrooms for in-person attendance, which increases the risk of transmitting the coronavirus. The ICE regulations fundamentally give colleges and universities an ultimatum: they either they open for business as usual or risk losing a major source of enrollment income.

If international students do not have classes offered in person, we will need to return to our countries of origin, where, for many of us, different time zones and spotty access to high-quality internet may hinder access to online education. Students may halt their education or drop out, especially considering that attempts to transfer American credits to colleges and universities in other countries are particularly challenging.

In other words, this is harmful for international students: we have to choose to either increase our risk of disease or drop out of college. Absolutely no one benefits from the new ICE guidelines, except those who buy in to Trump’s agenda to “make America great again,” which seems to mean keeping everyone else out.

The long-term effects will also be huge, negatively impacting the international image of America and its higher education institutions and system. Many prospective international students have already been expressing feeling uneasy about coming to the United States after the 2016 elections. They have begun shifting their attention to other countries like Canada, the U.K. and Australia, which have -- to their own benefit -- been much more welcoming to international students.

This is a bad move for everyone involved. The only way to make sense of it is to see it as what it really is: another racist, xenophobic and white supremacist act that this administration has taken.

This is not just about immigration status; this is about protecting whiteness. The majority of international students are from China and India, meaning that the majority are not white. The Trump administration is using the current crisis to hit two birds with one stone: to pressure colleges and universities to open back up quickly and to keep students of color out of the country.

And I have not talked about the psychological effects of going through this uncertainty for international students. The regulations not only create legal hoops to jump through but also send a clear signal to all of us: we are not welcome here. We do not belong on the campuses and in the cities and communities that we now live in. The Trump administration, and its alt-right, white supremacist supporters, have made that perfectly clear.

Bio

Musbah Shaheen is an international student from Syria who has completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the United States and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education and student affairs at Ohio State University.

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