A recent ICE decree has forced international students into an impossible situation: either attend in-person classes and risk exposure to coronavirus, or face deportation, says Boen Wang, a second-year creative writing MFA student at the University of Pittsburgh.According to the ICE decree dated July 6, if a university in the U.S. moves to online-only classes this fall, every international student will be deported. It’s a catch-22 for international students.

“Members of the Pitt community have created an open letter to Pitt administration, demanding that they unequivocally reject the ICE decree and establish Pitt as a sanctuary campus,” says Wang, a Bryn Mawr, PA resident. “The letter provides concrete strategies for modifying the University’s hybrid instructional model (“Flex@Pitt”) so as to protect international students from deportation, protect the health and safety of international students, and protect the health and safety of every single member of the Pitt community.”

The letter dated July 8 was co-written by Margaret Saigh, Grace Gilbert, K. Henderson, and Boen Wang and has more than 1000 signatures as of July 11.

As the letter states, the new ICE decree forces international students into a false binary: either guarantee everyone’s health by holding online classes but deport all international students, or protect all international students (allowing them to stay in the U.S.) by having in-person classes but jeopardize everyone’s health. “It does not have to be this way.”

Wang says that American University has made a similar petition with nearly 21,000 signatures, and Penn has one with over 1,500 Penn has also joined the Harvard/MIT lawsuit against the federal government, he adds.

Here is their letter in full:

To: Patrick Gallagher, Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, Ann E. Cudd, Provost and Senior Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh and Anantha Shekhar, Chair of Healthcare Advisory Group,

On July 6, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students on F-1 or M-1 visas “are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes.” ICE also singled out “F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing [sic] vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.” If a university moves entirely to online instruction, then the U.S. State Department will not issue visas to international students.

This means that all Pitt international students must take at least one in-person class. F-1 students in English language training programs — i.e. English Language Learners — are specifically required to take all in-person classes. If Pitt moves entirely to online instruction (“High Risk Posture”), every single international student will be deported.

The recent ICE decree comes on the heels of Chancellor Gallagher’s commitment to making the University “more diverse, inclusive and just” in response to the murder of George Floyd, as well as Provost Cudd’s announcement of the “Flex@Pitt” hybrid instructional model. In a June 23, 2020 letter, Provost Cudd wrote that “neither faculty members nor students will be required to be in the classroom in person for the majority of programs.”

However, Provost Cudd also insisted that “for all but a few exceptions … a classroom experience must be made available for students — and faculty are encouraged to physically come to the classroom where possible” [emphasis added].

To demand that “a classroom experience must be made available for students” endangers the health of all members of the Pitt community. Under the recent ICE decree, international students are compelled to risk their health by attending in-person classes, or else face detention and/or deportation. The new ICE decree forces us into a false binary: either guarantee everyone’s health by holding online classes but deport all international students, or protect all international students by having in-person classes but jeopardize everyone’s health. It does not have to be this way.

We, the undersigned, assert the following:

1. The right to refuse to provide or engage in an in-person classroom experience. If we want to teach and learn entirely remotely, we should be able to. If we do not want to set foot on campus, we should not have to.

2. The right for international students to learn entirely remotely within the U.S. without being forced to transfer to a different university, leave the country, or face deportation.

To protect international and immigrant students from deportation, the health and safety of international students, and the health and safety of all members of the Pitt community, all Pitt campuses must become sanctuary campuses with policies that protect students from the recent ICE decree. In developing and implementing these policies, the University of Pittsburgh must consult with community members and immigrant advocacy organizations. All policies must be widely disseminated and translated into multiple languages.

We propose that the University of Pittsburgh do the following:

• Reiterate the University’s commitment to reversing the ICE decree.
• Refuse ICE physical access to private University spaces — such as offices, classrooms and dorms — without a judicial warrant.
• Implement clear policies limiting when and how University Police and administrators collaborate with ICE.
• Mandate training for University Police and administrators on limiting collaboration with ICE and ensure that there are clear accountability measures in place for violations of these policies.
• Protect students’ personal information and records and limit the Department of Homeland Security’s access to student information for civil immigration purposes.
• Align itself with any and all legal actions taken by fellow universities (such as MIT, Harvard, CMU and the University of California) or other human rights organizations against the recent ICE decree.
• Provide pro-bono legal services for all international and immigrant students, and publicize legal resources widely to protect students from fraud and misinformation.
• Instate protections specifically for F-1 students in English language training programs and M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees who are explicitly targeted by the recent ICE decree.
• Implement “know your rights” training to ensure that all members of the University community understand their rights, can effectively respond to encounters with ICE, and protect students from deportation and/or detention.
• Guarantee existing funding and benefits for all international students.
• Establish a contingency plan that protects international and immigrant students from deportation and/or detention should Pitt move to fully online instruction (“High Risk Posture”).
This is more than a Pitt issue. This is a human rights issue. The University must demand that the federal government allow for a “Flex@Pitt” instructional model that better serves the needs of its students, instructors, faculty and staff. We, the undersigned, demand that the University unequivocally reject and publicly denounce ICE’s intended actions, and explicitly tie them to larger projects of white supremacy and xenophobia.

We stand in solidarity with all international and immigrant students.

Go to this link to see all the signatures and to sign the document if you choose.