A group of 12 evangelical leaders have penned a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, asking the agency to reverse its ruling that international students leave the country if their schools have switched to online-only learning this fall.
The letter says the decisions "robs our country of the significant contribution" made by international students both on a personal and economic level. It also says the decision "lacks compassion" and "violates tenets of our faith to 'not mistreat the foreigner' (Lev. 19:33) but to love these neighbors as ourselves (Lev. 19:34, Matt. 22:39)."
"International students who have already arrived in the United States and who are enrolled in degree programs should be allowed to complete their courses of study in this country without further disruption," the letter says. "This is reasonable, compassionate, and consistent with our national interests."
Those signing the letter include National Association of Evangelicals president Walter Kim, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities president Shirley Hoogstra and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention President Russell Moore.
Kim and Moore signed a letter in April asking the Trump administration to release immigration detainees who are considered low safety risks but high risks for the coronavirus.
According to the new policy students from other countries are barred from taking all classes online even if an outbreak forced the school to move all classes online. Typically, students are not allowed into the country to attend an online-only university.
As a result of the move, Fuller Theological Seminary, the only evangelical school to announce a plan to go fully online in the fall, is now reconsidering based on the ruling, Christianity Today reported.
Multiple secular schools have taken action as well. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued, and the states of California and Washington have sought injunctions.
Students can move to another school that offers in-person classes to avoid having to leave the country, but the letter argues that this imposes an unnecessary expense as well as possibly exposing the students to COVID-19.
"Shame on the Trump Administration for risking not only the education opportunities for students who earned the chance to go to college, but now their health and well-being as well," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Thursday.
Some students said they may return home, or move to nearby Canada.
"I'm generating research, I'm doing work in a great economy," said Batuhan Mekiker, a Ph.D. student from Turkey studying computer science at Montana State University in Bozeman. He's in the third year of a five-year program.
"If I go to Turkey, I would not have that," he said. "I would like to be somewhere where my talent is appreciated."
Mathias, a Seattle-based student who spoke on condition his last name not be used for fear of losing his immigration status, said he is set to sell his car, break his lease, and get his cat Louis permission to fly back to his home in Paris in the next two weeks.
"Everyone's very worried," he said. "We have our whole lives here."
The policy "treats them as pawns for the president's politically motivated decision," Mark Rosenbaum of nonprofit Public Counsel, which filed the suit, said in a statement.
Many American universities have come to depend on the revenue from more than 1 million international students, who typically pay higher tuition. President Donald Trump has insisted they return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, alleging that schools are being kept closed to harm the economy and make him look bad.
The guidance was released the same day Harvard announced it would keep all undergraduate classes online this fall. Harvard said the new Trump directive would prevent many of its 5,000 international students from remaining in the U.S.
The University of Southern California sent a letter to students and faculty, saying it is "deeply troubled" and that the "the policy could negatively impact countless international students."
Like other universities, USC said it was pushing back and working to ensure students' academic careers aren't harmed, while exploring ways for students to safely study in person if they wish.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the directive could inflict "significant harm" on colleges, students, the business community and the economy.
A U.S. State Department press release said the policy "provides greater flexibility for non-immigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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