“We deserve to be here,” say Brazilian students threatened by Trump decree

. Jul 11, 2020
“We deserve to be here,” say Brazilian students threatened by Trump decree Photo: Shutterstock

Weathering the changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic can already be extremely challenging and stressful on its own, with uncertainties over personal finance, health concerns, and rising death tolls around the world adding to people’s daily struggles. Yet, for international students at higher education institutions in the U.S., the crisis might become even more worrisome. In fact, situations may become impossible after the latest guidelines issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cast doubts over their right to stay legally in the country.

On July 6, ICE announced special regulations over the stays and visa status of nonimmigrant international students (F-1 and M-1 visa holders) at U.S. universities for the Fall 2020 term.

The new regulations were said to “provide flexibility to schools and nonimmigrant students” while mitigating health hazards amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet they might further endanger international students and make it increasingly difficult for them to stay in the U.S.

</p> <p>Among the most eye-catching regulations is the denial of stay in the country for international students whose schools will only provide online classes during the fall, a move prominent American universities such as Harvard and Georgetown have already announced they will pursue due to the health dangers an in-person semester could pose.</p> <p>ICE also added that failing to comply with this guideline may trigger “the initiation of removal proceedings,” thus forcing hundreds of thousands of international students to leave the country midway through the pandemic, or turning them into illegal immigrants overnight.</p> <p>Furthermore, if universities decide to hold in-person or hybrid classes for the upcoming semester, international students — regardless if they are currently outside the U.S. — are expected to be on campus to attend classes in order to maintain their visa and academic status. This requirement — already troublesome for students outside the U.S. that will have to expose themselves through lengthy international travel during a pandemic — may be the source of an even greater plight for Brazilian students due to current travel restrictions.</p> <h2>You can’t come, but you have to</h2> <p>On May 24, President Donald Trump issued an<a href=""> executive order</a> barring the entry of <a href="">immigrants</a> and nonimmigrants coming from Brazil or anyone who has been in Brazil within the 14 days prior to arrival in the U.S. — much like the restrictions already imposed by Mr. Trump on China and countries of the European Union — making compliance with the ICE requirements a real catch 22 for Brazilian students.</p> <p>“By law, I must be there, but at the same time another law prevents me from doing that. So, it is a ‘little’ hard to cope with,” says Pedro Tozzi, a Brazilian studying classics and education at Columbia University, speaking to <strong>The Brazilian Report.</strong></p> <p>Of the roughly one million international students in the U.S., over 16,000 are Brazilians,<a href=""> putting them ahead of countries such as Mexico</a> in terms of representativity in the American higher education system. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, most of these students were advised by school officials to return to Brazil and now find themselves unable to return to their universities.</p> <p>For Georgia Dutra — a rising sophomore from São Paulo studying economics at Northwestern University — the only hope of maintaining her visa status would be travelling to a different country and quarantining for 14 days prior to attempting to enter the U.S.</p> <p>“I would not say I feel safe or comfortable [having to quarantine in another country]. Right now, it is more a matter of ‘I really need to get to the U.S.’ because otherwise, I will have to take a leave of absence and then I might lose my CPT (Curricular Practical Training) for next year and then I will not be able to do internships again,” Ms. Dutra tells <strong>The Brazilian Report. </strong>“My mind is not even thinking about what I feel comfortable with or what I would like to do. It is more a matter of ‘I have to be there.’ There is not much of an option anymore.”</p> <p>Quarantining in another country, in theory, would be a creative solution to circumvent Mr. Trump’s executive order and fulfill ICE&#8217;s new regulations.</p> <p>Yet, with no real assurances from ICE or the U.S. government that these students will be admitted after a quarantine period elsewhere, the maneuver becomes a very risky gamble, one that some students just can’t afford.</p> <p>“If I can stay in Brazil, I am going to stay in Brazil, hope for financial aid to rent an apartment and take all my classes from here,” says Mr. Tozzi, who is from a low-income family. “If I cannot stay, there is one little hope that people have been talking about going to some country, spending 15 days there and then going to the U.S. That is a lot of money. I would only do that if my university were to pay for it or if there was absolutely no other way to keep my degree. In my case, I would have to be back in the U.S. before August 15, that is when my visa expires. It is crazy! I don’t want to do that. I&#8217;d much rather stay in Brazil.”</p> <p>The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention <a href="">guidelines</a> for schools reopening in the fall also would potentially require international travelers to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the U.S. prior to returning to their universities, which for Brazilian students could mean a whole month of quarantine outside Brazil before even setting foot on campus.</p> <p>Still, for those willing to take the risk, the legal recommendation is to provide as much documentation of your quarantine period and your current program in the U.S. as possible.</p> <p>“If you are planning to [quarantine in another country to enter the U.S.], you will have to have excellent documentation of your quarantine period, such as where you were and the fact that you did not go anywhere,” immigration lawyer Rosanna Berardi tells <strong>the Brazilian Report.</strong> “Furthermore, have excellent documentation about your program in the U.S. and be able to prove that it is not an online course. That would be documentation from your school that would show the semester, your courses, which ones are meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays [for example].”</p> <h2>&#8216;We don’t deserve to be kicked out&#8217;</h2> <p>For Brazilian students staying in the U.S., the situation does not get much easier, as they are subject to being removed from the country against their will if their school decides to migrate to online classes — which was the case across the country during the spring semester.</p> <p>Students would then have little time to arrange for plane tickets, and some would not even have the means to do so.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the case of Juliana Serrano, who is currently switching between visas from finishing her undergraduate studies in anthropology at Wake Forest University to pursue a master&#8217;s degree in archeology at the University of Florida in the fall. She has secured a one-year lease in Gainesville and might stand to lose not only the money spent on moving to a new city but also her scholarship, which is her only source of income.</p> <p>“If classes are online, I don’t know how my scholarship would stand. Because I am currently on a graduate assistant scholarship at the University of Florida, if classes are remote, I am not sure if I will maintain employment to not have to pay for my program,” says Ms. Serrano, in an interview with <strong>The Brazilian Report. </strong>“[If we move to online classes], I will probably have to borrow money to pay for plane tickets [to go back to Brazil] because I am buying things for my apartment like a mattress, furniture, etc.”&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>For many international students, the new ICE regulations and travel ban seem to be unfair punishment amid a situation they never had control over to begin with. They did not vote in the 2016 presidential election, neither did they break any laws. They followed every procedure, rule and requirement to make it to the U.S. in the “right way.” Yet, many — including the author of this article — stand to see all the effort they put towards their college degrees tossed aside.</p> <p>“It seems very targeted that when we need to go online, it is us that need to go back to where we are from. There’s no specific guideline saying, ‘if you’re from Texas, you need to go to Texas,’&#8221; says Giovana Gelhoren, a journalism and international relations major at Northwestern University and president of the school’s Brazilian Student Association, in an interview to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. “We deserve to be here just as much as [homegrown students] do, and we don’t deserve to be kicked out of the country.”</p> <p>Between either exposing themselves to the perils of the Covid-19 pandemic through at least three different countries, or jeopardizing their academic progress and life in the U.S altogether, flexibility and choice are the least of things provided to international students at the moment.

Rafael Lima

Rafael is a Communication student at Wake Forest University, and a student fellow of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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