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‘Irrational and punitive’: Faculty join students in opposing ICE directive

Some are optimistic about lawsuits challenging Trump administration

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On Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students will not be allowed to take an entirely online course load and remain in the U.S. On Wednesday, Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the directive. Shortly thereafter, Stanford announced its support for its peer institutions by pledging to file an amicus brief for the court to consider.  

During the initial hearing for the lawsuit on Friday, the judge decided to put off making a decision until Tuesday. While the country awaits the court’s decision, Stanford students and faculty alike are voicing their opposition and attempting to navigate the new regulations, despite uncertainty over how it might play out. 

Initial reactions

Ishan Gandhi ’23, a student from the U.K., highlighted the uncertainty brought upon the international students by the directive. Already facing travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. on his country because of the coronavirus pandemic, he says the directive “really came out of nowhere.”

“My default assumption is that I wouldn’t go back to Stanford next year,” Gandhi said. 

Lucas Guttentag, a professor at Stanford Law School, described the policy as “irrational” and “punitive.”

“It serves no purpose, undermines our standing in the world, wreaks havoc with educational institutions, and devastates the lives and plans of hundreds of thousands of international students who will contribute immensely to our country, their own, and the world,” Guttentag wrote in a statement to The Daily. Guttentag is also a founder of American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project, and served as senior counselor to the secretary of homeland security under the Obama administration.

Steven Pifer ’76, a fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, also opposes the new directive. 

“Personally, I think it is vindictive,” Pifer said. “I don’t see a reason to impact foreign students in that way. Particularly, because I think a lot of these students come here and they end up having skill sets and may decide to stay in the U.S.”

In an interview with CNN Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security defended the directive. 

“If they’re not going to be a student or they’re going to be 100 percent online, then they don’t have a basis to be here,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens.”

An article in Politico cited ICE saying the policy will “maximize flexibility for students to continue their studies, while minimizing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 by not admitting students into the country who do not need to be present to attend classes in-person.”

Ran Abramitzky, an economics professor who studies economic history with a foucs on immigration, told Stanford News that the new directive will harm the U.S. economy because “international students are important to the creativity and competitiveness of the U.S.”

Optimism for the lawsuit 

Gandhi, who also acts as a liaison between The Daily and the radio station KZSU, is optimistic about the lawsuit. 

“My sort of very basic understanding of the U.S. legal system is that nothing really happens until you sue someone, so I guess I’m optimistic on that front,” Gandhi said. 

Guttentag also sees promise in the Harvard-MIT lawsuit.

“My own view is that the new policy is likely to be enjoined (temporarily stopped) by the court on the ground that the Trump administration did not give adequate consideration to the impact of this sudden and unexplained change in policy,” he wrote, adding that the administration did not follow the required legal process for suddenly adopting a change in policy that will have “devastating consequences.” 

The legal process however may not be as quick as some international students would hope.

“The first step will be an emergency hearing to determine if the rule should be temporarily enjoined while the case proceeds to trial or other final resolution,” Guttentag wrote. 

A period of time to conduct discovery and to investigate the full “administrative record” that led to the new policy will follow the initial hearing. Afterwards, a final decision will be reached. 

If the judgment does not satisfy the government, they can appeal the decision.

Harvard and MIT are not the only institutions challenging the federal government on this issue. The state of California, the University of California system and Johns Hopkins have launched lawsuits of their own.

Public pressure

Stanford administration, faculty and students have expressed opposition to the policy since it was released on Monday. 

“The litigation is likely to continue for some time, and I am hoping that pressure from the public and from elected officials across the spectrum will force the administration to rethink and abandon this misguided and counterproductive new rule,” Guttentag wrote. 

In addition to committing to file an amicus brief in support of the Harvard and MIT lawsuit, University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne also wrote a letter to the acting secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, expressing strong opposition to the department’s decision.

“Under normal circumstances, a letter like that would be taken very seriously,” Guttentag wrote. “But I cannot speak to how the Trump administration will handle it since it has shown a cavalier disregard for the public good in so many of its actions and failures.”

Students advocates are also taking action, creating and distributing petitions as well as surveys about the experience international students are going through. 

Allen Yu-Lun Liang Ph.D. ’22 and Gülin Ustabas ’21, co-directors for international student advocacy at the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), have sent out a survey asking international students about the impact of COVID-19 and the ICE . 

While the team had already planned to distribute the survey about the impact of coronavirus on international students, they sped up its release and edited contents in response to the updated immigration rules. 

“We have already shown the statistics and some testimonials to school admins and let them know the unique difficulties international students have been facing,” Yu-Lun Liang said. “This is strong guidance on how to protect international students’ personal well-being, legal status and academic success.”

The broader Stanford community is also engaging in activism. A document created by the Twitter user @siointerrupted, describing the new regulations and ways in which students and faculty can join lobbying efforts, has circulated among students at Stanford. 

Stanford students have also taken their efforts beyond the campus community, collaborating with students at peer institutions to make change.  

“Our ASSU Leadership has been in touch with PAC-12 and other universities’ student government leaders,” Ustabas said. “We have signed onto a letter by student governments from universities all over the country to the DHS requesting the repeal of the new regulations.”

Community support for the international students

Faculty and students are expressing their support for all of the students affected by the new policy, highlighting their value in the community. 

Michael McFaul ’86 M.A. ’86, the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, has volunteered to teach a course to all international students using Stanford football field as the classroom. McFaul took to Twitter in saying that possible topics he’s considering teaching are “Irrational ICE Policies” or “Explaining the Erosion of American Democratic Institutions in the Trump Era.”

Guttentag stands in solidarity with all of the international students affected by the policy. 

I would say to all our international students that we support you, we stand with you, we are grateful for all you contribute to our campus and our education, and this policy does not reflect the values of America,” Guttentag said. 

Yu-Lun Liang encourages students to use the University resources to navigate the latest updates. 

“I hope that Bechtel keeps students updated, and that the Stanford admin provides more resources to help out Bechtel,” Yu-Lun Liang said. “Most importantly, I want to encourage international students to reach out to counseling services (CAPS) during this time of anxiety.”

Shalini Bhutani, executive director of the Bechtel International Center, expressed support for international students in a statement released by the University on Monday. 

“Our focus and efforts right now are on analyzing the DHS guidance to provide Stanford students accurate and timely information,” Bhutani wrote. “Please know that the Stanford community is committed to supporting international students.” 

Contact Anastasia Malenko at malenk0 ‘at’ stanford.edu

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