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ICE Announcement Panics International Students At Idaho Schools

College of Idaho

Many international college students in the United States panicked Monday, when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced anyone in the country on a student visa would have to leave the county if their institutions were not holding in-person classes this fall.

The news quickly spread among the 360,000 students studying at American colleges and universities on impacted visas.

“I think people started panicking,” said College of Idaho junior Christian Garcia. “There was a lot of anxiety in that environment, nobody really knew what to do.”

Garcia left his native Venezuela four years ago at the age of 17. He studied in Germany before coming to the College of Idaho. Even though he says he had a middle class upbringing, recent turmoil in Venezuela has left his parents struggling. Money he earns working on campus helps support them.

“Eighty percent of that money I get I send back home,” he said. “The minimum wage in Venezuela right now is between $4 and $6 a month. So if I send $20, they’re getting probably five times what they would get in a month.”

The rule enforcement ICE announced this week isn’t new; the agency relaxed it in the early days of the pandemic. The rule typically allows international students to take a single online course, but no more than one each semester. In its guidance statement Monday, ICE said students would need to take at least one in-person course to retain visa eligibility, and if both online and in-person instruction is available, students have to choose in-person classes.

Garcia said most international students receive financial aid and have part-time jobs. Few would be able to afford a plane ticket on short notice - if they could get back into their home country at all.

“We have students from Palestine, we have students from Iraq,” he said. “Why are you going to send them home to a conflict?”

He cited problems crossing borders closed in the pandemic and airlines not serving every previous destination, and those are just travel issues.

Once some students return home, he said, there’s no way they could continue their education.

“Some of them come from places that they don’t even have power. There’s no resources at all; no food security.”

Personally, Garcia said a return to Venezuela could mean his passport might be seized. He has been publicly critical of President Nicolas Maduro’s government. The United States recognizes Maduro’s opponent, Juan Guaido as the country’s true president.

The College of Idaho wrote in a statement Wednesday that it is confident the school will be able to maintain in-person classes, but it is working on contingency plans to keep its foreign students within the law no matter what.

College spokesman Joe Hughes said protecting international students is another incentive for the campus community to come together and follow pandemic-related protocols, thus keeping the campus open for all this semester.

The plan at each of Idaho’s public and private universities - for now - is to teach at least some classes this fall, which would keep international students within the law and in the country.

Boise State is still finalizing its course schedule, and students won’t know for sure which courses will be offered in person or online until July 15. It’s updated guidance for international students says students who cannot meet the requirements have to leave the country within 15 days of the start of the fall semester.

ICE could deport students who don’t comply with the rule, which jeopardizes the ability to get a student visa in the future.

Garcia is optimistic, but said he and other international students he knows are trying to come up with contingency plans.

“One of our coordinators always says to plan for the worst and expect the best, and I think that’s where most of us are.”

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) jointly filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and the University of California system said this week it will sue to block the rule as well. Those schools had already announced full remote learning this fall.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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