Trump’s attack on international students is a new low | Editorial

Posted Jul 13, 2020

Last year, there were 9,000 international students from 130 countries educated on Rutgers’ three campuses.

At Princeton, there were another 2,400 foreign kids, which represents one quarter of that university’s enrollment.

There are about 23,456 foreign students who attend college in New Jersey in 2019, and they do it because our state appeals to young people seeking superior instruction, a welcoming environment, an urbane culture, and, until recently, a good labor market.

The educators themselves cherish the reciprocity of it. Listen to Janice Fine, a professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, who has PhD students from Western Europe to Eastern Asia: “The wonderful thing is they bring all those experiences and understanding of political institutions and cultures with them — we learn by teaching them,” she says. “And now, we’ve filled their lives with fear.

There is a possibility that many scholars will be turned away at our door, because our president’s immigration policy has taken yet another spiteful turn in his catastrophic efforts to re-open a broken economy with a pandemic still raging — this time, choosing a truckload of dynamite for the job.

On Monday, Donald Trump seized the opportunity to torment the vulnerable, ordering US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to impose new regulations that will prevent international students from entering the country if they are currently enrolled in a college that has moved classes entirely online for the fall semester.

For the foreign students who are already here, there are two choices: Transfer to a school that has opened its campus, or leave the country and take online courses from abroad.

Schools are searching for operational workarounds to deal with this pointless regulation. Rutgers has joined Harvard and MIT in a lawsuit against the Trump Administration for what is essentially an attack on their decision to protect public health. As the lawsuit said, “The effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.”

That chaos will be felt here. Many New Jersey schools — such as Princeton and Rutgers — plan a hybrid schedule, with the vast majority of classes online. ICE will allow their foreign students to stay in the country, but only if they attend one class in-person, and “certify that the student is not taking an entirely online course load.”

But if a resurgence of Covid cases forces schools to switch from a hybrid model back to all-online instruction, schools fear these foreign students will have to leave the country — yes, during the semester.

The potential for financial chaos also exists. International students often pay tens of thousands more in tuition here: They represent only 12 percent of the total enrollment of US colleges, but pay 28 percent of the tuition, according to Business Insider.

This is the worst time to reject foreign students, who added $45 billion to the higher education industry in 2018, according to the Department of Commerce. Acclaimed marketing professor Scott Galloway of NYU Stern notes that higher ed already is facing a reckoning, and Covid accelerates the process: With tuition rates rising faster than health care costs, fewer families will choose to take on a six-figure debt because they believe the diminished experience of remote learning is no longer worth it.

Beyond economics, this is another example of our national soul being scraped raw. Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber calls the order “heartless, senseless, and damaging: They needlessly put international students at risk without serving any legitimate policy objective.”

But he forgets that all Trump policy on immigration is driven by xenophobia and tempered by cruelty.

It is a policy of family separation, one that delights in deporting grandmothers and caging children, on the theory that they “infest” our country.

It dangles a safe harbor to Dreamers, and then tries to banish them.

It demonizes immigrants as ruthless job-stealers, and ignores the corrupt employers who exploit them.

And it weaponizes bigotry, repackaged as woozy barstool sophistry from the ghoulish mind of Stephen Miller.

In the end, it serves one purpose: to provoke outrage among people who refuse to share the president’s obsession to decolorize America, without regard for the human consequences or the incalculable brain drain. All this winning.

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