‘Very upsetting’: ICE deportation policy upends students’ plans

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. (WHDH) - Chess champion Tamer Karatekin, originally from Istanbul, has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT and was planning on pursuing a master’s in the Boston area — but new orders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement are threatening to destroy plans for him and thousands of other college students.

ICE announced Monday that it would deport international college students if they do not take in-person classes this fall, despite many universities only offering online courses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Being forced to go back would be a disadvantage,” Karatekin said. “This is very upsetting for a lot of international students.”

Eric Guan, a piano major at the New England Conservatory of Music, said he is worried the curtain could drop on his time in Boston mid-semester this fall.

Guan is a rising senior who moved to the U.S. from China in the 9th grade but said his school is considering transitioning to online learning after Thanksgiving break — leaving him in the lurch.

“Even if everything is online, like courses, I would still have to meet up with people for rehearsals,” he said. “These are very much essentially parts of my life and career here.”

The Trump administration announced the possibility of deportations this week as colleges and universities grapple with how to safely reopen during the ongoing pandemic.

The alternative is that students transfer to universities that offer in-person instruction, which is a heavy burden with college starting soon.

“To now, in six weeks’ time, be asked to change the university or college – it’s practically impossible,” said Mahsa Khanbabai of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “This is the government weaponizing the immigration laws rather than trying to accommodate people in one of the most vulnerable times in our country.”

Many Massachusetts colleges have already announced plans that call for reduced student populations this fall. Harvard is allowing just 40 percent of its undergraduates on-campus, while only seniors will be allowed on MIT’s campus.

“I’m in this program at the Kennedy school in which 85 percent of my class are international students and we were all freaking out, trying to figure out what we were going to do afterwards,” Harvard student Valeria Mendiola said. “Many people just have nowhere to go because their countries have travel bans.

In a statement, UMass President Marty Meehan condemned ICE’s orders.

“The ICE guidance is cruel to valued members of our community while being counter-productive and destructive to one of the most important institutions we have: American higher education.  It must be revoked immediately,” Meehan’s statement read in part.

Attorney General Maura Healey added on Twitter, “This is just another cruel (& illegal) attempt by the Trump Admin & ICE to stir up uncertainty & punish immigrants. Our state is home to thousands of international students who shouldn’t fear deportation or health risks in order to get an education. We will sue.”

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