‘On the knife’s edge’: More upheaval for the DACA program

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A judge’s ruling blocks new applicants to the program that protects undocumented ‘Dreamers,’ and another metric captures the punishing impact of Covid-19 on international enrollments.


Federal Judge Rules Against DACA

A federal judge in Texas has ruled as illegal a program that has protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen said then-President Barack Obama overstepped his authority when he created the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, by executive order in 2012.

Hanen ordered the Biden administration to stop approving new applications, although he said the more than 600,000 young people currently in the program could keep their status, allowing them to stay in the U.S. to work or go to school. Current recipients, or “Dreamers,” may also be approved for renewal.

This is the latest upheaval in the decade-old program. President Donald Trump tried to terminate DACA, but he was blocked last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled his action “arbitrary and capricious.” 

But the court’s decision didn’t address the question of whether DACA was legally created. That opened the door to the current case, brought by Texas and other states.

In his ruling, Hanen said Congress had not granted the Obama administration the authority to adopt DACA. He stopped short, however, of immediately ending the program:

“Hundreds of thousands of individual DACA recipients, along with their employers, states, and loved ones, have come to rely on the DACA program. Given those interests, it is not equitable for a government program that has engendered such a significant reliance to terminate suddenly. This consideration, along with the government’s assertion that it is ready and willing to try to remedy the legal defects of the DACA program indicates that equity will not be served by a complete and immediate cessation of DACA.”

President Biden called the decision “deeply disappointing” and said his administration would appeal it. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement that his department would continue to process DACA renewals and would engage in rulemaking to “preserve and fortify DACA.”

But the ruling increases the pressure for a legislative solution. On his first day in office, Biden strengthened protections for DACA recipients, and he has proposed legislation that would give them a pathway to citizenship. But like other immigration and visa measures, the proposal has gone nowhere. Even before the judge’s ruling, some congressional supporters had said they would try to include DACA language in the budget bill:

In a statement, the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a coalition of more than 500 college presidents and chancellors, called on Congress to act. Jose Magaña-Salgado, the group’s director of policy and communications and a DACA recipient, said, “Today’s decision demonstrates, once again, that DACA remains on the knife’s edge and that Congress must act swiftly to provide a permanent roadmap to citizenship for undocumented youth and students.”

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Higher Ed Exports Drop

The export value of higher education plummeted nearly 20 percent in 2020, thanks to Covid-19, according to new data released by the U.S. Commerce Department.

The measure, which reflects the money international students spend attending American colleges, fell by $9.5 billion last year, adjusted for inflation. 

It’s an unprecedented drop and only the second decrease in higher ed’s export value over the past two decades. By comparison, educational exports were essentially flat in the years immediately after September 11th. 

There has been no shortage of data, of course, cataloging the devastating impact of the pandemic on international enrollments. And those of you who have been in the trenches of global recruitment or international-student support — well, you don’t need government spreadsheets to know just how much students’ dreams and plans have been affected.

But could this data be meaningful for another audience, to someone who looks at the fact that there were 185,000 fewer student-visa holders in the U.S. in 2020 and says, “So what? Why does this matter?” 

Here’s the so what: The Commerce data shows that one of America’s largest service exports has lost a fifth of its value. In dollar amounts, it’s the equivalent of foreign countries suddenly and completely halting all imports of U.S. corn. And the economic impact of fewer international students isn’t confined to campus — it’s felt in college towns and across the American economy.

No, dollars and cents aren’t the only way to measure the benefits of the presence of international students. But they may be be one that resonates with certain Americans.

A couple of other observations: The data also are a reminder of just how much of a boom has occurred in recent years. In 1999, educational exports were valued at about $14 billion in today’s dollars. At the high in 2018, they had a nearly $49 billion economic impact, a 250 percent increase.

And that’s right, the high in 2018. In 2019, there also was a decrease in higher-ed exports. (You might recall that NAFSA’s economic-value indicator noted a decline in the international students’ economic contributions in the 2019-20 academic year, a period that partly overlaps.)

The 2019 dip in higher-ed exports was small, less than 1 percent. But it’s another reminder that the softening of international enrollments didn’t start with the coronavirus.

Thanks to higher-ed data whiz Dan Bauman who gave me a heads-up on the new data.

University Raids in Hong Kong

On Friday, national-security police searched the offices of the University of Hong Kong Student Union, as well as those of the campus newspaper and tv station.

The raid followed a controversial statement by HKU’s student government sympathizing with a man who stabbed a police officer. The statement was condemned by the heads of all of Hong Kong’s universities, and HKU derecognized the student union. The group has since withdrawn the statement, and its leaders have resigned.

Still, many observers saw the police raid as another sign of deteriorating academic freedom and free expression on Hong Kong’s campuses, since the passage of the Beijing-backed national-security law there. Students have been among some of the loudest pro-democracy voices.

In a Twitter thread, FIRE’s Sarah McLaughlin raises the question of whether, and how, American and other western colleges ought to respond to what’s going on in Hong Kong. At a minimum, she writes, colleges need to educate exchange students (when study abroad resumes) about potential risks they could face because of the national-security law. And, she asks, should they reconsider such international partnerships altogether?

Go deeper: Geopolitical tensions increasingly cast a shadow over colleges’ international work. Do they need a foreign policy?

Around the Globe

The Stevens Institute is conducting a survey on virtual exchange.

Charles Lieber, the Harvard professor accused of hiding his ties to China, said FBI agents tricked him during interrogation and ignored his requests for a lawyer.

Canada will require detailed evaluations of university research partnerships in order to protect intellectual property rights and keep sensitive information out of the hands of foreign governments.

China could surpass the U.S. in R&D spending within the next five years, a new paper suggests.

“Grudgingly accepting the world’s best and brightest students, scientists, and entrepreneurs is no longer enough; the United States needs to be actively recruiting them.” 

The U.S. withdrawal and Taliban advances could dash young Afghan’s dreams of higher education.

Applications to UK universities from the European Union fell sharply, but the number of non-EU students applying has increased.

England’s Labour party opposes legislation intended to protect freedom of speech at universities because lawmakers say the bill would give a platform for extremism on campuses.

Iranian hackers impersonated British academics as part of an online espionage campaign.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan removed the rector of Boğaziçi University, a political loyalist whose January appointment sparked nationwide student protests.

Police fired tear gas at Kenyan university students protesting tuition increases.

Migrants detained in Lithuania claim to be foreign students forced to drop out of universities in Belarus because of fee hikes.

APLU has named award winners for international-education leadership

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And finally…

By now, we’re familiar with Covid health protections. Mask wearing. Social distancing. Easy listening.

South Korea’s Health Ministry has prohibited gyms from playing music with more than 120 beats per minute, saying that faster music could cause those working out to breathe harder. The rules also limit treadmill speeds to six kilometers, or just under four miles, per hour, ban the use of showers at gyms, and restrict table tennis matches to two people per table. One lawmaker ridiculed the rules:

“So you don’t get Covid-19 if you walk slower than 6 km per hour? And who on earth checks the bpm of the songs when you work out? I don’t understand what Covid-19 has to do with my choice of music.”

A gym owner also questioned how he was supposed to check people’s listening choices when they’re wearing headphones or earbuds.

A number of news outlets have helpfully gauged the speed of some songs for gymgoers.The Guardian says that the Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran” is far too fast, but “Flashdance” is OK. Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” is allowable, Reuters notes. And Foreign Policy breaks down what K-pop makes the cut.

Personally, I have no plans to work out in a gym anytime soon. But my running playlist is getting kind of stale. Fellow runners, share your favorites — promise I won’t check the bpm’s.

’Til next time —Karin

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