Fu­ture un­cer­tain for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents

They came to Chico State, Butte Col­lege to study, but threats of de­por­ta­tion loom

Enterprise-Record (Chico) - - FRONT PAGE - By Carin Dorghalli cdorghalli@chicoer.com

CHICO » In­ter­na­tional stu­dents will have to leave the coun­try, or run the risk of be­ing de­ported by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment if they are not en­rolled in at least one in-per­son class come fall. Those at Chico State and Butte Col­lege are no ex­cep­tion.

Prior to COVID-19, in­ter­na­tional stu­dents could only be en­rolled in one on­line class, while the rest had to be in-per­son. When schools across the coun­try sud­denly tran­si­tioned to on­line learn­ing, ex­cep­tions were made. They were meant to last through­out the du­ra­tion of the pan­demic.

How­ever, on Mon­day, ICE made a de­ci­sion with no ex­pla­na­tion in di­rect op­po­si­tion with its re­cent le­niency to­ward in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

Chico State had ap­prox­i­mately 300 in­ter­na­tional stu­dents from 46 dif­fer­ent coun­tries in the spring, while Butte Col­lege had

ap­prox­i­mately 100 in­ter­na­tional stu­dents from 29 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. The fed­eral de­ci­sion is putting in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, staff and fac­ulty of Chico State and Butte Col­lege in a quandary.

It’s been “mad­ness” in the Chico State In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion and Global En­gage­ment of­fice this week said Cindy McKay, co­or­di­na­tor and ad­viser. When she heard the news, a flurry of emo­tions gripped her.

“At first, dis­be­lief, then shock, then panic and now ex­haus­tion,” she said.

And not only her, but other staff and fac­ulty mem­bers. She said many reached out to ask if they can help in­ter­na­tional stu­dents by of­fer­ing in-per­son classes, even at the risk of their per­sonal safety as the coro­n­avirus floats.

“I feel like in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are some­what of an easy tar­get,” McKay said. “They’re a group of re­ally earnest peo­ple try­ing to bet­ter their lives.”

She fears the fed­eral de­ci­sion will al­ter prospec­tive stu­dents’ de­sire to study abroad.

“I wish we had more wel­com­ing poli­cies. It makes the U.S. look like a re­ally un­wel­com­ing place, which makes me sad,” McKay said.

To her, in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are Butte County’s “gate­way into the world.”

Chico State stu­dent Nat­sumi Kawa­mura, of Ja­pan, ini­tially thought the news was fake.

“I was re­ally shocked,” she said. “It’s su­per un­fair.”

In the mo­ment, she felt at­tacked.

The the­ater arts ma­jor has called Chico home for nearly two years. She plans to grad­u­ate in spring 2021. Though she had the choice to go back to Ja­pan, it was no ques­tion she would re­main here.

Tran­si­tion­ing to on­line learn­ing was a shock to her sys­tem as it was. If she were to go back to Ja­pan, the time dif­fer­ence would re­quire her to take some classes in the dead of the night. Meet­ings with her pro­fes­sors would be dif­fi­cult to sched­ule. Not only that, but her sup­port sys­tem is here.

“I made so many friends that care about me,” she said.

Her class­mates were the first to check in on her when they heard the news.

“I’m so glad to have them right now,” she said. “They’re al­ways there for me.”

One of her pro­fes­sors im­me­di­ately reached out, too, to tell her she’d try to to get her en­rolled in one of her in-per­son classes.

Though Kawa­mura doesn’t know the ex­act rea­son­ing be­hind the fed­eral de­ci­sion, she can’t help but won­der if it’s rooted in racism, es­pe­cially since one of the qual­i­ties of this coun­try she finds most spe­cial is that it’s “a na­tion of im­mi­grants,” she said.

“Ev­ery­thing came out a dif­fer­ent way than I was ex­pect­ing.”

Butte Col­lege in­ter­na­tional stu­dent Asashay Verma, of In­dia, felt sim­i­larly to Kawa­mura when he heard the news.

“I had a lot of shock,” he said.

Verma spends his sum­mers back home with his par­ents, who live in the Philip­pines.

It’s the one time he gets to see them each year. That is not an op­tion for him this turn around the sun. The Philip­pines closed its borders to any­one seek­ing en­try, in­clud­ing ci­ti­zens of the coun­try.

“I can­not go back home,” Verma lamented.

He has fam­ily in San Fran­cisco, so he’s stay­ing with them in­stead dur­ing this time of un­cer­tainty. Not all stu­dents whose coun­try of ori­gin are closed off are in the same sit­u­a­tion.

Verma sees the fed­eral de­ci­sion as bla­tant op­po­si­tion to the fight against the coro­n­avirus.

“I don’t see how it’s help­ful,” he said, es­pe­cially be­cause it would po­ten­tially force peo­ple to un­know­ingly ex­pose oth­ers to the coro­n­avirus dur­ing their trav­els back home.

“We come here for higher ed­u­ca­tion,” he said. “This is stop­ping us.”

Be­tween stud­ies, Verma plays bas­ket­ball for Butte Col­lege. If he is not en­rolled in at least one in­per­son class, his suc­cess in both scholas­tic pur­suits and ath­let­ics will be im­peded.

“I hope they re­verse this,” he said.

Verma and his in­ter­na­tional stu­dent friends have been re­ceiv­ing daily email up­dates from Butte Col­lege.

“That’s been help­ful,” he said. “That puts us at ease a lit­tle.”

Equity, di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion are en­dur­ing com­mit­ments of Chico State said Clare Van Ness, in­terim dean of Re­gional and Con­tin­u­ing Ed­u­ca­tion, of which the Amer­i­can Lan­guage and Cul­ture and Im­mer­sion pro­gram is a part. Bet­ter known as ALCI, it is an in­ten­sive English lan­guage learn­ing pro­gram.

The pan­demic poses se­ri­ous restric­tions on the ways in­struc­tion can be con­ducted. For that rea­son, among oth­ers, it was de­cided that ALCI would sus­pend all in­struc­tion for the up­com­ing aca­demic year. The hope is to re­sume again in sum­mer 2021.

Sim­i­lar pro­grams ex­ist, but “what makes it dis­tinc­tive

is that it’s on cam­pus. It’s very much fo­cused on hav­ing our in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in­ter­act with our do­mes­tic stu­dents,” Van Ness said.

These pur­pose­ful, cross cul­tural in­ter­ac­tions are foun­da­tional to the pro­gram.

“It’s very dis­ap­point­ing and dev­as­tat­ing to our ef­forts to build a di­verse cam­pus com­mu­nity that em­braces and val­ues in­ter­na­tional and global per­spec­tives. Be­cause we can’t wel­come stu­dents here, the rich­ness that our in­ter­na­tional stu­dents pro­vided to our cam­pus is miss­ing,” Van Ness said.

The pro­gram has a 40plus year his­tory of im­mers­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents into the Amer­i­can cul­ture. All of its in­struc­tors will not be able to re­sume teach­ing un­til next sum­mer if the pan­demic al­lows.

Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra an­nounced Thurs­day he is fil­ing a law­suit against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on be­half of the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity sys­tem and the state’s com­mu­nity col­leges. Ma­jor uni­ver­si­ties are su­ing, too.

“Butte Col­lege def­i­nitely sup­ports those ef­forts,” Brad Zu­niga, dean for Stu­dent Ser­vices said. “It’s a very emo­tional time.”

The school is ex­am­in­ing some of the same so­lu­tions as Chico State to keep in­ter­na­tional stu­dents en­rolled legally.

Both are look­ing at class sched­ules to see which in­per­son classes, if any, would be suit­able for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

To move in that di­rec­tion, the schools would need to gain ap­proval from their re­spec­tive chan­cel­lor’s of­fices.

Not all in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are still in Butte County. Many stayed, while most left for var­i­ous rea­sons.

Of those who stayed, sev­eral feared they wouldn’t be able to come back if they left. Some feel safer in Butte County than they would in their metropoli­tan coun­ter­parts. Some didn’t want to stay in a for­eign coun­try amid a pan­demic, but couldn’t man­age to find a means to fly back home.

In­ter­na­tional stu­dents also ben­e­fit the lo­cal economy.

A study con­ducted by the As­so­ci­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tors shows that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents con­trib­uted $41 bil­lion to the U.S. economy, and $22.6 mil­lion to Con­gres­sional Dis­trict 1, of which Butte County is part, dur­ing the 2019-20 aca­demic year.

They cre­ated 458,290 jobs na­tion­wide, and 130 in the dis­trict.

Of the ut­most con­cern for school staff though, is the well­ness of the in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

“There were def­i­nitely a lot of tears shed this week by both staff and stu­dents,” Zu­niga said. “We’re talk­ing about young adults in col­lege hav­ing to nav­i­gate these things. We’re do­ing all we can, but it’s an in­cred­i­bly com­plex sit­u­a­tion.”


Chico State in­ter­na­tional stu­dent Nat­sumi Kawa­mura, of Ja­pan, feels shocked that she has to take in-per­son classes, or oth­er­wise risk be­ing de­ported by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. The the­ater ma­jor sits in the court­yard of the Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Fri­day in Chico.


Chico State in­ter­na­tional stu­dent Nat­sumi Kawa­mura, of Ja­pan stands with class notes hugged close on Fri­day in Chico.

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