NEW HAVEN, CT —Some 14,000 international students were enrolled in Connecticut colleges in 2019. It was announced by the Trump Administration last week that those students must attend in-person classes or risk losing their visas.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ordered Monday that visa-holding international students at schools where classes are online due to the pandemic will lose their visas and “must depart the country” or “face immigration consequences, including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

Now, a number of Connecticut colleges and universities are pushing back.

“That policy is senseless and cruel,” said Yale Law School Dean Heather K. Gerken. “It forces students, faculty, and institutions to make a terrible choice, and it creates the possibility that students might have to leave the country at the height of a pandemic simply because public health conditions require a university to go online.”

Many schools plan to reopen for the fall semester, albeit with a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.

According to the Institute of International Education, in 2019 more than 12,000 international students were enrolled at Yale (3,636), UConn (4,172), and the Universities of New Haven (1,410), Bridgeport (1,878) and Hartford (533), not to mention private colleges and universities like Trinity, which also have international student populations.

At Yale, Gerken said in a letter posted to social media that the Trump policy “is also flatly inconsistent with the core tenets of academic institutions. Knowledge knows no borders, and an intellectual culture depends on inclusion and openness to thrive.”

“Our international students are a beloved part of our community. While I fervently hope that this policy will be rescinded or overturned, we are planning to do whatever we can to protect our students should the policy stand.”

Gerken said that since the school is offering a “hybrid educational model in the fall, the University has advised our international students that they can maintain their visa status for now. The University will continue to update us on its efforts to protect international students.”

That said, Gerken noted that, “if there is a COVID-19 spike at some point during the semester and public health conditions require us to teach classes online, we have an additional plan in place at the Law School.”

Gerken said she and other faculty spoke with most of the faculty and, “Every single one of them volunteered to offer an in-person, one-on-one tutorial to our international students so that they can continue with in-person learning and avoid deportation. One of my colleagues told me that he would teach outside in the snow if he needed to.”

And Yale president Peter Salovey said the university is “committed” to its international students.

An international graduate student who earned their PhD in 2005 said, “The DHS policy is discriminatory and puts international students in danger. It stigmatizes and targets them unfairly. It does not consider their health and exposes those with comorbidities to unnecessary risks.”

At UConn, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carl Lejuez said the ICE policy is “incredibly cruel to international students, who are already dealing with so many difficulties as a result of the pandemic, including travel and visa restrictions, xenophobia and financial challenges.”

“These proposed rules represent a drastic measure by the U.S. government and is already being challenged by many States,” Lejuez said. “This is a serious challenge to our core values as a comprehensive and multi-cultural global research institution.”

Currently, he said, UConn has 2,055 international undergraduate and graduate students in Connecticut who would be in jeopardy along with the 1,558 international students who are currently abroad and unable to return to campus.

“The majority of our normally enrolled 1,600 international graduate students serve as teaching and research assistants and provide essential services in support of our fall re-opening efforts. Without them, University teaching and research capacity will be restricted,” he said.

“We are frustrated by this decision and the way it targets international students, who have already endured so many challenges related to the pandemic,” he said, noting that, “Many of these students have stayed in Connecticut during the pandemic, have leases, spend considerable time away from their families and loved ones abroad, and at this moment, are simply unable to depart the United States given limited flights and travel restrictions.”

“It is our responsibility to ensure that they are treated fairly and their aspirations can be fulfilled,” Lejuez said.

Meanwhile, international students and alumni are taking matters into their own hands. The ‘International Students at Connecticut College’ Facebook page has alumni from around the globe offering legal advice and help.

“Hi! Marta ’18 over here. If you’re an international student seeking legal counsel at this moment in time, message me. There’s a good amount of alumni and people close to Conn that work in the immigration field and are happy to give out counsel for free. Stay strong and please do reach out to us international alumni if we can help in any way. Hugs from Spain, Marta.”

This article originally appeared on the Across Connecticut Patch

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