Stavisky Praises Win Against ICE Rule for Foreign Students

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State Sen. Toby Stavisky

State Senator Toby Stavisky (D-Central Queens) celebrated U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) agreement Tuesday to rescind a new policy that would have forbidden foreign students from remaining in the U.S. if their university switched to online-only learning.

The policy walkback came after a wave of backlash against the new directive, including a lawsuit filed originally by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

The Queens lawmaker said that she was proud of New York State for joining in the successful fight against a policy that would have unfairly targeted and endangered international students, and used them as political pawns.

“Rescinding these divisive, politically motivated policies is a victory for students and colleges and universities across the country, who can now continue to focus on what is most important during this COVID-19 crisis: the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” said Stavisky, Chairwoman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee. 

Stavisky previously called the new guidance a ploy to get schools to reopen despite dangers from the COVID-19 pandemic and said that it would increase racial and cultural divides in the country. In a press conference last week with State Assemblymember Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, Stavisky called on the state and it’s public and private universities to join the lawsuit against ICE’s rule during a virtual press conference.

The lawmakers said that international students are vital to university student bodies and that the new rule would only increase xenophobia and polarization in the country. It was a tactic to rally President Trump’s base before the upcoming election in November, they said. 

The directive, which ICE announced on July 6, would have barred foreign students with visas through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program from remaining in the country if their university switched to online-only because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To remain in the country, students facing online-only learning would have to switch schools to a school offering in-person classes or a hybrid of online and in-person classes. If they did not comply, they would be deported. 

The students will now be evaluated for their eligibility to remain in the country based off of guidance issued in March at the start of the pandemic. 

ICE did not respond to a request for comment for this story. 

According to a report by Open Doors, New York has nearly 125,000 international students making it the state with the the second highest number of international students in the country. In all, those students spent an estimated $5 billion in New York in the 2018-2019 academic year, according to the NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool. They also supported more than 60,000 jobs.

State Attorney General James, who filed a lawsuit on Monday against the policy arguing that it threatened public health, student education and New York’s economy, welcomed the reversal.

“It’s time for the president to stop treating immigrants like nothing more than scapegoats and for him to start leading our nation through this national pandemic,” she said. “As long as the president continues down this path, we will continue to use every legal tool at our disposal to stop him.”

Her lawsuit remains active for the time being despite the reversal, her press release said.