July 7, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Pres. Pollack Must Denounce ICE Restrictions on Student Visas

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To the Editor:

The recent announcement from the Department of Homeland Security adding restrictions to Non-immigrant F-1 student visas is a xenophobic, bigoted and inhumane political stunt designed to further nationalist rhetoric. The decision to restrict student visas is the latest attack on the international community under the guise of national economic security or public health. These include but are not limited to the 2018 Muslim travel ban, various attempts to overturn Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policies and recent rollbacks on foreign worker visas. Denying students the right to educational opportunities based on immigration status is in direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This discrimination based on national origin endangers not only student achievement, mental health and physical health amidst a global pandemic, but is also detrimental to the longevity of Cornell’s educational philosophy and Ithaca’s economy.

24 percent of Cornell’s student body is made up of International students, a statistic that is consistently upheld as a standard of our values of diversity and inclusion. Cornell administration has a duty to safeguard these students and has stood against previous efforts by the Trump administration to discriminate against international students. After the White House rescission of the DACA program in 2017, Pollack promised that “(Cornell) will continue to actively and aggressively engage federal policymakers in an effort to either reverse today’s order or secure a legislative remedy.” The same responsibility to stand up to the federal government applies today. Cornell cannot stand idly by and comply with an action that is in direct opposition with the duty to safeguard and protect students.

The restriction also harms school administrators, adding undue burdens in evaluating student health and well-being in reactivation plans for educational delivery. The prospect of a second wave of infections makes flexibility in planning paramount as students return to campus this fall. This decision directly undermines the careful planning Cornell has allowed in their reopening plans. According to Cornell’s FAQs for reopening, specific accommodations have been included for professors and students concerning in-person and online education. Under the current plan, “instructor preferences, course learning goals, course size, and classroom availability” affect whether a class will be online, in-person or a hybrid model of instruction. Furthermore, students are explicitly given the opportunity to enroll in “only online/remote classes” but retain access to campus facilities as long as they comply with University behavioral standards. Under this hybrid model of instruction, increased restrictions against F-1 visas have the dangerous potential to be applied in a discriminatory manner and allow for targeted deportations that undermine educational goals. Moreover, the mental health concerns and trauma associated with deportations are exacerbated by forcing students to leave the country in the midst of unprecedented health and safety concerns.

The other “option” afforded to international students who will have to leave campus once their school goes fully online is to transfer to another school in America with a completely reactivated campus. This is an option that is deliberately unfeasible and impractical, forcing students out of the country. This move would result in international students facing extreme hurdles when learning online from their home country: Varying time zones, quarantine requirements and interruptions to their academic timeline American students do not have to face. The forced movement of these students from their main campus could result in many students left without means for adequate remote learning and thus being forced to withdraw from classes. This would not only be detrimental to the individual student’s academic success, but also a massive financial loss for the Cornell and Ithaca communities. If international students move back to their home countries, the local economy faces the loss of customers local businesses have been waiting for since classes were paused in March. The city of Ithaca is already operating on a $2 million deficit, with Mayor Svante asserting the dire economic need of students to return to campus.

Cornell cannot continue to celebrate its diversity and globalism while simultaneously standing by as its international community is attacked by Federal legislation. International students are generally offered little to no financial aid, which allows Cornell, Ithaca and America as a whole to benefit from these student’s more-than-significant financial contributions.

We are calling for the amendment of the current campus reactivation plan to allow for international students who risk deportation and air travel to be allowed to remain on campus for the entirety of the semester in order to protect their health and education. This safeguard is crucial as the federal government undermines the rights of students who have worked to obtain education at Cornell and made financial sacrifices to afford tuition, housing and employment opportunities.

Cornell must join its peer educational institutions such as Harvard in protecting its international students, publicly denounce the Trump administration’s xenophobia and align itself with the value of “Any person, Any study” that the administration claims is at the center of our community. If we fail to defend 25 percent of the Cornell community simply because they are not American citizens, it conveys a clear message: Statements of solidarity and reiterations of the importance of a diverse student body are as far as Cornell is willing to go to protect its international community.

Catherine Gorey ’21 and Ameya Rao ’21