Who is deserving edition

When it comes to visas and immigration, is higher ed’s advocacy too narrow?

Colleges’ Role in the Immigration Debate

I was speaking on a panel at Duke University last week when a question from a student in the audience left me and my two co-presenters, professors of public policy and law, momentarily flummoxed. Our session was on universities as global actors in an increasingly nationalistic, fractured world, part of a forum on immigration. 

The student, whose name was Emma, stepped to the mic. What role, she asked, should universities play in advocating for the rights of campus workers – staffers who serve food in the dining halls and keep the grounds lookbook-ready – who are immigrants?

We speakers had been expounding on the travel ban and DACA and how STEM departments would be decimated without talented international graduate students. We’d talked about OPT and FBI warnings about universities’ vulnerability to espionage and whether the Fulbrightian ideal of academic exchange could withstand the assault orchestrated by a Duke graduate, President Trump’s chief immigration adviser Stephen Miller. But challenges facing janitors? None of us had considered such a thing. A couple of days later, I’m still thinking about why.

Colleges inhabit a curious corner of the broader immigration debate. That’s in part because much of the advocacy they do is for students who, after all, have to explicitly promise that they’ll not immigrate but return home after earning a degree. 

Many of these students would like to stay, of course. With delays for processing OPT work authorization, it’s getting tougher to do so even in the short-term – never mind the difficulty in securing an H-1B or green card. Many colleges would also like students to remain here; a group of prominent business deans recently took out an ad in the Wall Street Journal calling for immigration reform. And higher ed has many foreign-born employees on its payrolls, as professors, researchers, scholars – and maintenance staff.

The current pull-up-the-bridges attitude affects outsiders of all stripes. Just as asylum seekers are being turned away at the Mexican border, students have had their visas revoked as they returned for the fall semester. Enhanced vetting and social-media searches affect all those who come to the U.S., whether for a degree or forever.

Over dinner at the conference’s end, I sat with Josie, a student from Texas and the daughter of two immigrants from Mexico. Her father can barely read at the third grade level in his own language. But he helped with her math homework, and he worked long and hard every day. Was he not worthy of coming to this country, she asked.

I thought about the way higher ed talks about the importance of maintaining open borders. How I talk about it. Earlier that day, I’d reeled off statistics about the economic impact of international students and their dominant numbers in certain graduate programs. When I wrote about Peyman, an Iranian student whose visa was suddenly canceled, I emphasized that he won a highly competitive fellowship. Profiling Bushra, who made it to Northeastern after being stuck in visa limbo, I highlighted her work tutoring young students during the Syrian civil war. 

Are we – I – unconsciously feeding into the narrative that there are people who deserve to be in the United States, the model immigrant, the good visa applicant? And in doing so, are we inadvertently furthering the idea, ascendant in the current political discourse, that some people aren’t as deserving?

These are half-formed thoughts, so I’d welcome your reflections about higher education’s role in this broader debate. As always, you can find me on email at latitudesnews@gmail.com or on Twitter @karinfischer. For some related reading, check out this Emma Petit piece on professors and graduate students who volunteered to work with migrant children in federal custody.

China’s First Daughter in the U.S.

China’s Ministry of Education has warned Chinese students about the “risk” of going to the United States. But Taiwan News reports that President Xi Jinping’s daughter is studying for a graduate degree at Harvard.

Xi Mingze earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2014. She majored in psychology and English and used an assumed name; only a few faculty members and close friends knew her true identity. She reportedly studied a lot.

Xi Mingze’s American degree always seemed incongruous with her father’s China First stance and attempt to restrict the teaching of western ideas in Chinese university classrooms. Nonetheless, a decade ago, when she would have been applying for college, it wasn’t uncommon for Chinese government officials to send their children abroad. More recently, though, there have been rumors that Chinese authorities enacted a secret order forbidding the children of high-ranking Communist Party officials from studying in America. 

As you might imagine, there are lots of theories about Xi Mingze’s studies – a sign of political intrigue at home? a conciliatory message to President Trump? My bottom line: As we debate the future of Chinese enrollments, it’s an interesting development.

A Bucket Full of Drops

After my talk at Duke, a student stood up: “All these developments are so frustrating and scary,” she said. “What can we do as students?” Her question echoed an email from a graduate student that had landed in my in-box a few days earlier: “I was particularly upset about the latest news of the Iranian Ph.D. student,” he wrote. “I am a doctoral student in education, and I wonder what I can do. I know the forces are great and unmoveable by one person, but how might I be useful?”

I’m a realist, and I don’t want to suggest to the students there are any magic bullets. But the words of another speaker at the Duke event have been ringing in my ears. “Yes, certain actions might be drops in a bucket,” said Nicholas Kristoff, the New York Times columnist, “but that’s how we fill buckets.”

So, I turn to you, my thoughtful, enterprising readers: What should we tell the next generation? What small steps do you suggest they take? What are some of the drops that can help fill the bucket and make positive change? Send me your ideas, big and small, to latitudesnews@gmail.com, and I’ll share them next week.

Around the Globe

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been named to the Fulbright Program board.

Chinese diplomats in the U.S. will have to notify the State Department before they meet with educational or research institutions. 

This housing agency preyed on international students and almost got them evicted.

An American student abroad in Egypt got caught up in a government crackdown. He spent four days in jail after police found emailed news articles on his phone.

If colleges won’t close their Confucius Institutes, then governments should bar the Chinese-funded language and culture centers from operating on campuses, argues this piece in Foreign Policy.

European universities are starting a new network to help scholars at risk due to discrimination, persecution, or violence in their home countries.

South Korea’s justice minister has resigned as his wife goes on trial for allegedly forging documents to help get their daughter into a top medical school.

Quebec’s government wants to limit the number of international students who can take part in a popular program that accelerates the path to immigration.

No students showed up when universities in Kashmir reopened after a two-month lockdown, part of an effort by India to strip the region of its autonomy.

A university lecturer in Indonesia was arrested as authorities foiled a bombing plot.

Both France and Israel unveiled campaigns to attract more foreign students.

As their college-aged populations drop, universities in Canada and Britain will likely try to recruit more international students, Moody’s Investor Services said in a new report. The credit rating agency predicts Canada will have greater success.

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And finally…

Ron Vara thinks you’ve “got to be nuts to eat Chinese food.”

He warns, “Only the Chinese can turn a leather sofa into an acid bath, a baby crib into a lethal weapon, and a cellphone battery into heart-piercing shrapnel.”

His observations are often cited in books by Peter Navarro, President Trump’s chief China adviser and a virulent China critic. The thing is? Ron Varra doesn’t exist. Tom Bartlett uncovered the crazy story

’Til next week – Karin

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