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Evangelical Leaders Ask ICE Not to ‘Mistreat the Foreigner’ With Student Visa Policy

UPDATE: New protocols for international students rescinded after university backlash.
Evangelical Leaders Ask ICE Not to ‘Mistreat the Foreigner’ With Student Visa Policy
Image: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Update (July 14): Campus ministry leaders are celebrating the Trump administration’s decision to reverse a new policy that would have forced some international students to leave the United States. The rule said people on student visas would have to take classes in person to maintain their status, even if courses moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The change was announced Tuesday by a federal judge in Boston, where Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had sued to challenge the policy.

“We at InterVarsity are very pleased that ICE dropped its plan to deport international college students who only use online courses,” said Tom Lin, president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. “In the coming week and months, InterVarsity and many faith-based organizations are working hard to help students navigate a chaotic and stressful time for us all; during this time, students and young people need more certainty and support, not less.”

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Leaders of 12 Christian organizations urged the Trump administration to rescind a policy requiring international students to leave the US or transfer if their colleges hold classes entirely online this fall, saying it “falls short of American ideals.”

In a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, shared with the Associated Press, the leaders wrote on Friday that the policy “robs our country of the significant contribution” international students make to their colleges on both a personal and economic level. It “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),” they wrote.

“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 leaders said. “This is reasonable, compassionate, and consistent with our national interests.”

Among the signatories are National Association of Evangelicals president Walter Kim; Council for Christian Colleges & Universities president Shirley Hoogstra; and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that the more than 1 million international students in the country would not be allowed to take all their classes online this fall. The agency notified colleges that no new visas would be issued to foreign students at schools operating entirely online that term, and those already in the United States would be required to transfer or leave the country.

Foreign students will be barred from taking all their classes online even if an outbreak prompts their schools to shift classes online, according to the policy.

Fuller Theological Seminary is the only evangelical institution that has announced plans to go fully online in the fall, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s database. The school is reconsidering that decision in light of the new rules.

“We are waiting on rules from the Department of Homeland Security to know which legal parameters must be satisfied, but Fuller is committed to doing everything within our power to develop plans for the Fall quarter that will enable our international students to fulfill their visa requirements and remain in the US to continue their studies,” said spokesman Britt Vaughan in a statement to CT.

“International students contribute in immeasurable ways to our community and our mission in the world and deepen our understanding of theology, missiology, and psychology,” he said. “When they leave Fuller, they expand our reach around the world.”

The proposed policy has drawn backlash from universities and education groups who say the rules needlessly put students’ safety at risk. Many colleges have come to rely on revenue from foreign students, who are typically charged higher tuition rates.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued to block the policy, and California became the first state to seek an injunction against it.

Other signatories of Friday’s letter include the president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry; the executive director of the international student ministry at Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ; and the president of World Relief, a Christian humanitarian group.

Kim and Moore previously signed onto a letter in April that asked the Trump administration to consider releasing low-safety-risk immigration detainees, particularly those with a higher risk for the coronavirus, to facilitate social distancing during the pandemic.

They, along with several others joining Friday’s letter, are part of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of Christian leaders advocating for immigration reform.

Additional reporting for CT by Liam Adams.

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