Future uncertain for international students
They came to Chico State, Butte College to study, but threats of deportation loom
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.