UC System to Sue Federal Government Over New ICE Policy

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Kristina Stahl / The Triton

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The University of California (UC) system announced plans on Wednesday, June 8 to sue the federal government for violating students’ rights with a new policy which requires international students to leave the country if they are taking only online courses in the fall.

The lawsuit “will seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief” to prevent the government from enforcing the policy. This will be the second lawsuit that the UC system has filed against the Department of Homeland Security.

The new policy by the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) states that nonimmigrant international students on F-1 and M-1 visas will not be allowed to remain or enter the US in the US if they take a fully online class load for Fall 2020. ICE recommended that students attending online-only universities transfer “to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”

Students at universities offering in-person classes are only permitted to take one class online. On the other hand, students whose universities are offering a hybrid of in-person and online classes may take more than one class online but must certify with ICE that their entire course load is not remote. Furthermore, students who change their course load in the middle of the quarter must report the change to ICE within ten days.

Students that remain in the US with online-only classes will potentially face removal proceedings, according to ICE.

Since 2019, international students have made up about 14% of the total UC student population and almost 20% of the student population at UCSD. According to Associated Students of UCSD (ASUCSD) International Senator Dakshh Saraf, this decision has multiple repercussions for international students, including those on campus.

Because many students have already signed leases or taken out loans for the upcoming school year, they will be paying extra money out of pocket if they are deported. In addition, students that are forced to leave the country will be at risk of contracting COVID-19 if they are traveling.

Saraf reached out to the International Students and Programs Office (ISPO) on Monday and has been in contact with other International Senators at other UC campuses. Currently, the ISPO director is working with administration to discuss the feasibility of implementing a one-unit in-person course that international students can enroll in to maintain lawful status. Students are also encouraged to discuss their circumstances with an ISPO advisor during walk-in hours.

For incoming fourth-year Human Biology major Iris Cui, the press release has created a shockwave among her friends that are also international students.

“I felt really sad and confused in that moment. Luckily, I’m taking a hybrid class in the fall, so I’m not yet personally affected,” Cui told The Triton. “But my roommate is only taking online classes in the fall, so if she can’t find a way to stay here, she’ll have to find a flight back to China. We just signed a lease so if that happens, she’ll either have to find someone to sublease her room or just pay the rent even though she’s not actually here.”

According to Saraf, some current UCSD students that are American citizens have dropped their in-person courses to allow international students to enroll. Others have compiled a full list of in-person courses as a community resource to use. Furthermore, Saraf has informed  The Triton that immigration lawyers have said that legally, universities are not mandated to help ICE locate students that do not comply with the new rules.

“These rules are morally and fundamentally discriminatory and racist. Just because of one’s citizenship, one has to risk one’s health and be forced to attend an in person class,” Saraf said. “It’s safe to assume that the ICE thinks that international students are immortal and immune to the coronavirus. No one should be forced to risk their lives and attend classes against their will.”

If you or someone you know is personally affected by the new ICE policy, here are some resources:

  • ISPO Bulletin for International Students 
  • Immigration Policy Updates Page 
  • COVID-19 Information and Guidance for International Students 

Ella Chen is the Editor-in-Chief of The Triton. You can follow her @cinder_ellachen.