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Editorial: UCLA must support its international students in wake of ICE guidelines

By Editorial Board

July 8, 2020 5:23 p.m.

“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” reads the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

Unless, of course, the huddled masses are undocumented immigrants, legal immigrants — or more recently, nonimmigrant international students.

The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that international students planning to attend institutions with hybrid models for the fall must enroll in at least one in-person class to maintain their visa status.

This means that international students at UCLA must now scramble to find an in-person class, despite the fact that less than 20% of classes will have physical instruction, the vast majority of which are upper-division engineering labs restricted to specific majors.

It is clear that these changes are a bald-faced attempt by the Trump administration to use international students as bargaining chips to pressure colleges into reopening in the fall. And during a pandemic where there have been shortages of basic personal protective equipment, these rules create an additional burden for colleges to offer more in-person classes at the expense of social distancing and safety, not to mention long-standing issues with overcrowded enrollment.

Many international Bruins may jeopardize their visas if they are unable to return to the U.S. for fall quarter. ICE’s alternative options to this decision, such as transferring to an in-person institution, are nothing but measly band-aids for a self-inflicted wound.

International students are vital in all facets of university life. They are researchers, athletes, teachers’ assistants and leaders of prominent campus organizations. They contribute over $45 billion in education exports to the U.S. economy.

UCLA is in no way responsible for this appalling policy change. It is, however, responsible for its response.

A timely message from Chancellor Gene Block is a good first step, but it’s imperative that UCLA follow up with a plan of action and open mind in the coming days.

After all, students and faculty have already begun developing concrete solutions.

Faculty across the University of California have offered to hold one unit, in-person seminars, in line with social distancing regulations, to technically adhere to ICE’s exemptions. The UC, where international students comprise more than 14% of undergraduates, could and should consider pursuing legal action against the administration on behalf of its students, in line with other prominent universities nationwide.

Though the regulations are divisive, the ensuing unity of students and faculty across the country has been anything but. Students have begun to compile spreadsheets cataloging in-person classes offered in the fall. But such inspiring shows of solidarity do not detract from the fact that international students will have to navigate a labyrinthine system of rules to simply stay enrolled in school.

As the virus continues to spiral out of control in the States, international Bruins – who may be safer at home – are being forced to endanger themselves to maintain a visa status they already secured.

But unlike the current administration, COVID-19 does not discriminate by citizenship.

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