Putting The ‘I’ In Immigrant: Immigration and higher education must regain trust of immigrant and international students

For those who have lost faith in the system, new developments in Biden-era policy act as a stepping stone in rebuilding immigrant and foreign trust in American higher education. The situational nightmare faced by international students and DACA recipients alike may have been reformed by executive order, but the trauma and duress placed on the shoulders of students in the United States has not been forgotten. 

It is evident by the 13% nationwide decreases in enrollment that there are obstacles deterring our learners. In light of the new world order, students across the nation are demanding policymakers in higher education come to the table with terms that are realistic for a pandemic-afflicted student body — none so strongly as those who have been burdened the most. 

It is clear that the pandemic is not only one of health-related concerns but one of unparalleled financial stressors and a rising nationalistic sentiment that has left many non-citizens in a threatening limbo. 

The 2020 spring semester was a period of lethargy, adjustment and general acceptance of a humdrum fate for most; for others, the weaknesses of foreign and domestic policy in the United States culminated in a perfect storm of legal issues, leaving visas in question and DACA protections at risk. 

While we have all endured an unthinkable year, the collateral damage of the past year — the past administration — has made President Joe Biden’s efforts a starting point for rehabilitating trust in our institutions and creating a foundation to come back to campus better than where we left in March 2020. 

In the wake of last spring’s visa restrictions, the outpouring of backing for international students on behalf of the University was indicative of healthy systems of protection and support. The early arising legal issues of visas stipulating that international students attend in-person class quickly became a relic of a pre-pandemic system but remained a very real threat to the University’s students along with the international student population nationwide. 

The lawsuit filed by USC, in coalition with a number of other universities, offered more safeguarding care than the governing administration. The displacement of these students is still ongoing as we slowly begin to see some international students returning to campuses in the United States while others have returned home for the foreseeable future. 

For marginalized students and DACA recipients, this time has been no less taxing. The Trump administration was quick to pull at the strings of former president Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, jeopardizing the futures of many who have known no other nation than this one. 

It was on the hearts of many, mine included, when the administration chose none other than a period of pandemic to push through with the stripping away of protections for young adults with hopes no different than mine. 

Reports estimate that undocumented students constitute 2% of the nation’s postsecondary enrollees. Along with these individuals, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs estimated the nation to have hosted over one million international students for the school year beginning in 2019. 

These students, along with all individuals enrolled in higher education, are vital to the economy, culture and progression of the nation and this University. It is undoubtedly true that countless breakthroughs in all fields have been made possible by the talent and ingenuity of students from marginalized communities and international backgrounds. 

While DACA was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and fortified by Biden in the last week, there is still room to grow. Immigration policy regarding deportations, detention camps and abuses in border patrol authority are still prevalent in our community and continue to affect immigrant families. In the way of visas, we are still patiently awaiting word of how we are to move forward with travel bans, welcoming back international students and tackling the backlog of visa applications.

All in all, the support of these demographics needs to be equivalent to the effort and contributions they have made to the world around them. The increasingly impractical cost of higher education in the U.S. along with increasingly unaccommodating practices toward students of diverse backgrounds has all but led to the conclusion that education is only for students who can check all the right boxes. 

In a pandemic-stricken world, we are all looking for investments and practices that fit within our new means. As far as students are concerned, we are looking for institutions that will protect our interests, encourage our aspirations and accommodate our new way of living. 

As a university and as friends of those affected by these domestic policies, the rolling out of Biden’s immigration policy is of the utmost concern for the livelihoods of our family and colleagues. We are looking to our institutions and leaders, asking for a new dialogue that is inclusive of, protective of and compassionate towards its students. 

We are all rebuilding confidence in the systems that have been bent or have always been broken, and as students, we are seeking to do what we have always been taught: Learn a new way.

Noelle Natividad is a sophomore writing about the immigrant experience in America. Her column, “Putting The ‘I’ In Immigrant,” runs every other Friday.