Why the New ICE Rule Made Every International Student’s Greatest Fear a Reality (OPINION)

Jul 13, 2020
2:31 PM

In this July 8, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer looks on during an operation in Escondido, Calif. International students will be forced to leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools offer classes entirely online this fall, under new guidelines issued Monday by federal immigration authorities. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

Editor’s Note: One July 14, the Trump administration rescinded the rule.

Navigating the U.S. education system as an international student is, to say the least, quite the daunting experience. I have been in this country under an F-1 visa for the past six years, and if there is one thing that my time in the United States has taught me is this: being an international student in the U.S. is way different from the usual experience of studying abroad that many U.S.-born students choose to partake in. For them, it is a chance to expand their horizons, experience a new culture, and benefit from an experience that gives them a glimpse into a new way of living. For us, especially those of us who come from countries not as developed as this one, it is our shot to really change our lives. 

Yet, international students live with constant fear and anxiety. Many of us jump at the opportunity to come to study here because of the wide range of possibilities and numerous doors that an education from the United States offers. However, this is coupled with a constant feeling of being in a place where we don’t belong. During my time in the U.S., I have experienced living in this country under a false sense of security, constantly fearing that I may be removed at any given time. 

We are made to believe that we are welcomed and accepted, yet I sometimes wonder if this is the case. Most of us have to face many challenges that not only affect our studies, but leave an imprint on our beings as well. We are subject to experiences of racism and xenophobia from peers and educators, we truly must adapt to a culture many times completely different from our own, not to mention all the mental and emotional challenges that come with being away from our families and support systems. Yet we make the choice to stay here, again, because this could be life-altering for us. While we see this country truly as a land of opportunity, this country sees us merely as “temporary, non-resident aliens.” 

If all of this wasn’t enough, the specificities and complexities of being an international student in the United States are ludicrous. After being vetted and deemed acceptable by this government through an arduous process, we sigh a breath of relief when we finally land in the United States only to be faced with more processes and bureaucracy. Since we are ineligible for federal money, we can only work certain jobs on campus, those with departments that have funds set aside for students; if we want an internship, we must file extra paperwork to make sure that we are engaging in work directly related to our field of study; if we want to continue working after college, we have an opportunity to stay for a certain period of time (but only if your college internship didn’t exceed a certain number of hours!); if we want to leave the country, we must ensure we have a “travel signature” from our international advisors to be able to re-enter; if we’re having a hard time with a class or it’s been a complicated semester, which many of us have for a plethora of reasons, we must make sure that dropping that class won’t put us under a certain number of units, because that would invalidate our status and could be grounds for removal from this country.

In short, everything we do is constantly accompanied by the question: could this action, in any way, affect my stay in the U.S.? 

If this wasn’t enough pressure already, many times we are expected to navigate everything virtually alone. There are many international student offices that are really good with providing support, but that only goes so far. To make matters worse, with the exception of those working for these offices, faculty and staff members are largely unaware of what it means to have international students in their universities. 

The point is this: international students live in constant fear of being removed from a country that they do not really belong to in the first place. And this fear is becoming a reality for many of us due to reasons completely outside of our control, given the new ICE rule. This is the message that the government is giving international students today: either risk being exposed to the coronavirus or leave this country. 

The ramifications that this decision could pose for the future of international students in the U.S.—not just economically, but also in terms of the perspectives that we bring into the classroom, and, eventually, the workplace— only make this decision all the more senseless. But the message is clear, and is one that resonates all the more loudly with every international student’s great fear, now realized: our sense of security and of acceptance can be very easily destroyed, even if we do everything “the right way.” That’s why we are constantly afraid. 


Facundo González Icardi is pursuing his Master’s in Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He was born and raised in Uruguay, and moved to the United States in 2014 to pursue higher education at Loyola Marymount University, where we graduated with his Bachelor’s degree in Theology in 2018. He teaches high school theology in Indianapolis. He tweets from @_mrfacundo