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  • Writer's pictureBecca Dzombak

Argue against the ICE #StudentBan with both empathy and economics.

Attack the ICE rule where the right is sensitive: economics.

On Monday, the ever-upstanding organizations of DHS and ICE released new guidelines (pending finalization) outlining that international students taking a fully online course load in the fall would be deported, and currently-abroad international students would not be able to return to the U.S. in the fall to take an online course load. This announcement was swiftly and widely responded to with dismay, fear, and outrage from the academic community and beyond. #StudentBan was quickly trending on Twitter, and numerous higher-ed institutions released statements communicating support for their international students and promising to fight to keep the guidelines from being enacted. People have been quick to attack the guidelines as unjust and racist, and pointed to it as a transparent effort to force higher ed institutions to hold in-person classes when public health dictates otherwise. MIT and Harvard are even suing.

In our fight against this, we need to include another facet: economics. Many universities and colleges are already suffering financially due to budget cuts and drops in enrollment (more on that later...), so removing a large group of full-tuition-paying students is just illogical from a budgeting perspective. USC, who announced a largely online course load, has a student body of which 25% comprise international students. Harvard's large arts and sciences college announced a fully online semester; their student body comprises 13% international students. Other institutions have similar demographics; the Univ. of Michigan is just over 15% international students. At $67k/year, that loss would amount to $469 million in tuition for Michigan if all those international students disenrolled.

And then there's the "cost of living" expenditures to consider. International students in the U.S. spend money to boost local economies - rent, food, services, and so on. With local businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, and boutiques struggling to stay afloat even as states tentatively (or not so tentatively) reopen, purposefully removing a double-digits portion of the student body who could spend money in a town only harms local business people. In 2018, the total U.S. international student body comprised around 5.5% of higher-ed students and contributed and estimated nearly $45 billion dollars to the economy. Can the U.S. economy really afford to take that hit?

And finally, there's the huge logistical nightmare and taxpayer expense of tracking, locating, and deporting hundreds to thousands of international students. ICE spent about $8.4 billion in 2018, and that wasn't even during a pandemic. Flights within and out of the U.S. aren't running as frequently, flying poses a huge health risk, and airlines are financially struggling and furloughing workers. Thanks to naive/willfully ignorant reopening plans in states like Florida and Georgia, covid cases are rising at alarming rates in much of the U.S., prompting a number of countries (including the entire EU) are prohibiting U.S. travelers from entering their countries. So how are these students supposed to return home?

All this is to say that we should be combating the ICE #StudentBan with a mix of feeling and logic. If Ann Arbor lost, let's say conservatively 5,000 students, how many businesses would suffer from not delivering pizzas or picking up groceries? What other coffee shops and burrito joints will go under? If even just a third of those students opts to disenroll because of how their chosen country treated them, how would the University be forced to cope with that $100+ million dollar loss?

So when you contact your representatives and senators and Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell and, yes, even the president, and when you tweet about ending the #StudentBan, I'd consider using the one-two punch of empathy and economics. It's hard to argue with the numbers, and they show that this policy benefits no one.

PS. How have you fought to protect Black lives today? Have you advocated for Breonna Taylor? Have you demanded that ketamine not be used by cops? Did you donate to a cause like BLM, Color of Change, the ACLU, or the NAACP this month?

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