“Huge sigh of relief;” UM praises reversal on deportation threat of international students

The University of Montana is celebrating a Trump administration decision this week to rescind an earlier policy that would have forced international students to leave the country if they took a fully online course load this fall.

Immigration and Customers Enforcement issued the policy on July 6, sending schools across the country racing to ensure international students would get the classroom hours they needed to remain in the country, despite the risk face-to-face instruction poses due to the pandemic.

“We’re back to where we were and it’s a huge sighs of relief,” said Donna Anderson, the senior international officer and director of global engagement at UM. “Our international students don’t have to have that stress hanging over their heads with the what ifs.”

The order by ICE did more than scramble American colleges and universities. It also unleashed a volley of lawsuits.

Both Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the administration over the policy earlier this month. This week, 18 states followed with another lawsuit, calling it “cruel, abrupt and awful.”

The Trump administration issued the policy while trying to force universities and K-12 schools to reopen in the fall, despite soaring COVID-19 cases across the country. The states’ lawsuit highlighted a July 6 tweet from Trump declaring: “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!”

The backlash against the measure united a league of colleges, states and educational advocates from coast to coast.

“It’s the power of numbers,” said Anderson. “There’s a lot of gratitude to Harvard and MIT for initiating the suit, and the 18 states and the hundreds of institutions that followed. It speaks well to the value of international students in the U.S.”

Anderson said the International Students & Scholars at UM will continue following the situation and will update its 150 international students and the rest of the campus community as the pieces fall back into place.

“We see the human value of our international students here at UM,” Anderson said. “Other’s have been compelled by other arguments, like economics. We’re just relieved and hope we don’t have any more surprises in the near future.”

There were more than 1 million international students studying in the U.S. for the 2018-19 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).