30 US Senators and 136 Congressmen from the Democratic Party have urged President Donald Trump to reverse his administration's order asking international students, whose classes are being conducted entirely online, to leave the country.
On July 6, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declared that non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students who are attending schools which have shifted their entire operations online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, will not be allowed to remain in the United States.
Now, lawmakers have written separate letters to Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf and Acting Secretary, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Matthew Albence, expressing concern over ICE's modifications to the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP).
"ICE's announcement of their plans to force out or deport international students who remain at US colleges and universities and who are taking a full online course load is cruel and unconscionable," the letter written by the Senators said.
"These students are already in the United States, are established members of educational communities, and have been determined through the visa screening process to pose no danger to the United States," it added.
The modifications additionally limit students who are studying in normally operated schools from taking more than one class or three credit hours online in order to remain in the country.
The letter has been signed by Senators Robert Menendez, Cory Booker and Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris among others.
They have also expressed concern that ICE's guidance is motivated not by public health considerations caused by the coronavirus, but rather by animus towards non-citizens, immigrants and is a flagrant attempt to hold international students hostage in order to force schools to reopen even as COVID-19 cases are rising.
"We call out this policy for what it is: a cruel, senseless, and xenophobic attempt to use non-citizens as political pawns in order to financially coerce colleges and universities to reopen campuses this fall, despite what is best for public health," the lawmakers wrote.
"This policy is dangerous to the health and well-being of numerous communities," they added.
The House letter is co-led by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Davis, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, and Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren.
Their letter said that ICE's announcements have added to the burden already faced by students and schools and potentially puts more students at risk.
"These modifications have also not thought out the practical challenges of remote learning for international students," said the letter.
They note that students who move to other countries will have to participate in online classes in time zones hours apart from where their schools are located, which could have detrimental effects on their education, health, and livelihood.
They also say that some students may also go back to areas where they have inadequate internet access to participate in online classes, thus denying them the full value of the education they are paying for.
They add that for some students, being forced to leave the country may lead them to leave the school permanently and fail to receive a degree into which they have put so much time, effort, and tuition dollars.
"This will also deprive universities of needed revenue at a time of great financial stress, straining resources for the students who remain at schools and make it harder for those with financial challenges to meet. Moreover, forcing students to leave in short order will place financial burdens on them. Many have housing or automobile leases that they cannot break, or other financial obligations in the United States," the Congressmen wrote.
The letter also says that the loss of international students only serves to isolate them at a time when they need the support of their faculty and classmates.
"This policy sends a message to international students that they are not welcome in the US and disregards their well-being and the well-being of student bodies. These modifications will only further disincentivise international students from coming to the US where they enrich campus life and our society through their talents and contributions," they said.
The letter is supported by the University of California, Advancing Justice, South Asian Americans Leading Together, Central American Resource Center, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, among many other groups.