International students took to social media July 7 to express discontent with the newest U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.
Some JMU international students said they were left feeling “fearful” when ICE announced that foreign students whose universities have switched to online instruction would have to leave the country. Eliza Filatova, a junior theatre major, and international student at JMU, said this last minute announcement had students scrambling to find flights home or transfer to schools with in-person learning.
“I feel like this country hates me,” Filatova said. “This was completely different from my expectation and impression of America when I first got here. It’s not welcoming anymore, it’s not friendly.”
JMU released a statement earlier this month saying they would be in communication with the international students.
“As an institution, we believe the campus community, and the nation at large, is greatly enriched by the presence of international students, who represented 65 different countries at JMU in Fall 2019,” Caitlyn Read, university spokesperson and director of communications said. “We recognize that everyone benefits from diverse students’ perspectives and experiences, and we will continue to support our international students.”
Helen Nguyen, a junior, SMAD and SCOM double major, and international student, and Filatova both said the flights to get back to their home countries were rather expensive. Since many other countries have closed their borders, the only way to go home for many students is through “rescue flights” or “humanitarian flights,” which are meant to bring their country’s citizens home from — in this case — the U.S.
“Even if you are lucky enough to get on a rescue flight back home, there’s still a huge possibility that you’re going to get coronavirus and bring it back to your family,” Filatova said.
The directive was rescinded July 14 when Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued to block ICE’s new policy, arguing that it “violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies make rules,” according to an article by the Washington Post. Harvard and MIT also claimed there was a political motive behind ICE’s policy to force Universities “to reopen campuses and hold classes in person despite the soaring toll of the coronavirus in death and illness.”
This decision came a bit too late for some JMU international students as they’d already bought plane tickets home when the initial announcement was made. Nguyen said she had two friends who had already gone home and three others who bought plane tickets to go home in August. Nguyen’s friends said they still plan on going home.
“At this point, I feel like international students are being played,” Nguyen said. “They messed up our lives and then they say, ‘Oh we’re just kidding’ about a week later.”
Nguyen said she doesn’t know the next time she’ll be able to go back home given the circumstances, risks and financial hardship. She spoke about the uncertainty that many international students are facing right now, and she said she hopes that American students will treat them with kindness and understanding.
“This whole thing has just been really cruel and inhumane,” Filatova said. “We should be treated as humans above all, not just foreigners.”
Contact Isabela Gladston at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.