Guest Columnist

Universities must challenge ICE policy, not adapt

While individual actions are well-intentioned, the only way forward is institutional response.

Tthe University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Tthe University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

I am an international graduate student at the University of Iowa. At first, I wanted to write about the logistical nightmare that the new ICE regulations pose to me and other international students. I wanted to tell you a horror story about relocating across the world when borders are closed, flights are limited, and no one wants people coming from the United States. Or tell you about the challenges of continuing to work and study in a different time zone. Or about what it would mean to leave a life behind without knowing if I can ever come back.

But instead, let me tell you how to fix it.

If universities are offering “hybrid” instruction (both in-person and online classes), international students can take more than one online class and stay in the US. Domestic students are offering their spots in in-person classes to their international peers; there are calls to create small in-person classes specifically for international students, or to have a class that meets once a semester with excused absences. None of these are viable solutions.

Let Iowa’s international students stay here and learn

Blocking international students is cruel, misguided and dangerous

Taking an in-person class forces international students to make an impossible choice between their health and deportation. And if the class is “made up,” students (most of whom pay out-of-state tuition and receive no financial aid) will be forced to enroll and pay for credit hours that have nothing to do with their degree.

Also, let us not be naive and think that ICE can be tricked by fake in-person classes. ICE agents have raided tech companies with international interns to check whether their internships are real. The agency also set up a fake university to lure in and then deport over two hundred international students.

While individual actions are well-intentioned, the only way forward is institutional response.

The University of Iowa stated that due to its hybrid approach (online and in-person classes until Thanksgiving), it has more flexibility to adapt to this new policy, and to ensure that international students can study in the Fall with minimum disruption. At the time of writing, the solution still is unclear, and international students have been told that the University will work with us on a case-by-case basis.

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In other words, the University’s administration is now looking for loopholes that would allow it to keep international students on campus once classes go all-online after Thanksgiving break. This approach will inevitably require students, faculty and graduate instructors (of which I am one) to make an impossible decision: risk deportation, or risk one’s health in in-person classes.

Instead of trying to solve this impossible conundrum, the University of Iowa must join a growing list of universities across the country that are legally challenging ICE and DHS. If the University really cares about us, it is time to show it. Several Big Ten universities — Purdue, Michigan, and Indiana, — have already joined other universities in legal action or announced plans to do so. If Iowa loves us, it is time to show it in court.

Inga Popovaite is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Iowa. She is from Lithuania, and has been living in Iowa City for the last five years.

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