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Speaking Up for International Students

This week, the Trump administration reversed a new Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rule which targeted international students: guests in our country to study and prepare for their careers and an important facet of higher education. The now-rescinded rule essentially gave ICE the authority to deport international students who are only taking online classes while enrolled at colleges and universities in the United States. With infection numbers spiking as the first wave of COVID-19 resurges, many colleges and universities are shifting to online curricula to prevent infection of students and workers. For international students, that means that under the new ICE rule, they would have had to choose between facing exposure through what in-person courses are available, or facing deportation.


The backlash to the rule was immediate and comprehensive: Harvard and MIT quickly filed lawsuits while labor unions and student organizations took action to call for change. It worked: Yesterday the Trump administration and ICE reversed their heartless and inhumane decision.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) attacked this issue head-on, and has a remarkable history of fighting for students of all backgrounds, including both immigrant and international students. You can check out our podcast episode from July 2018 to learn more about AFT’s efforts in protecting students from inhumane immigration policies. AFT’s advocacy is another example of just how powerful acts of solidarity are, especially when we see repeated attacks against anyone deemed un-American by the Trump administration.

For more context about the ICE rule and to learn more about AFT-Oregon’s response, we encourage you to read a statement issued by the Executive Council of AFT-Oregon earlier this week, before the rule was rescinded:


The Executive Council of AFT-Oregon makes the following statement:


We, the elected leaders of the American Federation of Teachers, Oregon, condemn the recent policies that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued on July 6th, 2020 regarding International Students attending universities in the United States of America. In their guidance for the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP), they have stated that international students attending online-only programs must leave the United States. Furthermore, for schools operating in a hybrid mode, international students must not take a fully online course load, and if they are, they must leave the United States. SEVP also stated in their guidance that if for some reason schools transition to an online-only course mode for the fall mid-semester, international students will be forced to leave the US. With many travel bans both to and from different countries still in place, for some international students, travel will be impossible and dangerous at this time.


Requiring international students to take some in-person courses not only puts them at risk for COVID-19 but also puts the faculty required to teach those courses at risk. These policies establish a false dichotomy; ICE is attempting to force a choice between protecting international workers and the health and safety of the school communities during this pandemic. International students are an indispensable part of the fabric of every university and school community. Further, Graduate Employees, many members of this federation, are an important part of the teaching experience for many courses at universities, and these policies threaten their research, degree progress, and livelihood. The material conditions and lived experiences of international workers are substantially different from domestic workers, including visa and work restrictions, fear of reprisal, and discrimination. These policies attempt to further divide international workers from domestic workers.


At our state convention in 2019, we, as a state federation, adopted resolution #2019-1, “Promoting Protections for International Workers,” promising to dedicate resources to protecting our international colleagues and students. Furthermore, in previous years, we have adopted resolutions opposing the presence of ICE in schools. Most recently, in 2019, we adopted resolution #2019-11 “Continuing to Oppose ICE in Schools.” This is our chance to take a stand for our international cousins and further reaffirm the values of this state federation, as adopted by our democratic body of members.


We, as the Executive Council, in recognition of our power as one of the leading labor unions in Oregon, and as of our organizational priorities, issue the following proclamations and demands:

  1. We will support the call of AFT-National to provide legal support in the fight against these heinous policies. These policies are not yet the law of the land, and we must do everything in our power to stop the further attacks on immigrants in this country.

  2. We commit to support our affiliate locals, allied community organizations, our political allies, and other groups in their efforts to resist ICE and protect international workers from harm, regardless of documentation status. We have created resources for contacting representatives in Congress, and encourage every member of AFT-OR to call or email their representatives to oppose these measures.

As a union of education professionals, we believe every member of our educational communities deserves a safe environment free from intimidation, harassment, and fear. We are encouraged by the swift actions already taken by those within and outside the labor movement, but this crisis reminds us to remain steadfast in our values, and ever vigilant for more attacks from this administration.


In Solidarity,

The Executive Council of the American Federation of Teachers, Oregon

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