Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Local Universities Pledge to Protect International Students

Newly announced guidance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement dictates that international students must take in-person classes to remain in the country

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International college students in San Diego County are feeling confident their universities have their backs in the escalating fight between the federal government and higher education.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement this week announced that all international students enrolled in institutions holding online-only classes in the fall had to leave the country.

Some view the rules as a Trump Administration strategy to force the hands of colleges to hold more in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC 7 reached out to San Diego's three major universities (UC San Diego, San Diego State and the University of San Diego) to see how many of their students would potentially be impacted and how the universities are responding.

All three institutions are planning a "hybrid model" for fall learning and pledged to do everything in their power to keep international students enrolled and in the country.

UC San Diego has the most international students, roughly 9,000 -- about 20% of the student body.

UC San Diego chancellor Pradeep Khosla said ICE's policy takes a limited approach to a very complex issue.

"This guidance undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students and researchers by UC San Diego and other academic institutions across the nation to plan for continuing academic and research programs while balancing the health and safety challenges caused by a global pandemic," Khosla said.

Khosla said specific instructions and resources to help students are forthcoming.

First-year UC San Diego student Sam Jig, who is from Wuhan, China, said it has already been a stressful year. Between his hometown being the site of the outbreak of COVID-19 and now seeing an uptick in cases in San Diego, he was nervous he would have to return to China in the fall, but now feels confident he'll have enough in-person classes to satisfy the federal government's rules.

"It seems like most of the universities are protecting their students," Jig said. "They're making reactions to ensure their students can stay on campus for the fall quarter, and I think that's really good."

SDSU has about 1,400 international students. The rules would impact about 1,000 of them, a school representative said. The university has contacted its international students, advising them to avoid making any sudden decisions or changes to their academic schedules as a result of the ICE rules. The school plans on working with international students to make sure their course scheduled meet federal requirements for the F-1 student visa.

For its part, the University of San Diego has about 700 international students who could be impacted the federal guidelines.

USD's president James T. Harris III blasted the ICE policy, calling it "shortsighted" and "unjust."

USD has begun reaching out to its international students to make sure they're in compliance with the new rules. Harris II said USD would be pursuing injunctive and other legal relief to fight the recent modifications.

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