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“I’m not looking to be a lawful undocumented immigrant. I just want to be legal.” Plus, book contest winners on supporting international students.

Biden Proposes DACA Rule

The Biden administration has released a 200-plus-page proposed rule to try to preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a program that protects undocumented young people brought to the United States as children from deportation and allows them to work and study here.

DACA has been subject to legal challenges for nearly the entirety of its decade-long existence, most recently from a Texas judge who ruled it unlawful and ordered officials to stop accepting new applicants.

The proposed regulation includes some changes to the original Obama-era program. Most notably, it creates a new category that would allow people to apply just for DACA’s legal protections without also seeking employment authorization. That provision seems to be a hedge against the possibility that the work-permit portion of DACA could be struck down, preventing recipients from being arrested and deported under that scenario.

But in substance, the Biden administration is essentially recreating DACA, which was initially enacted by administrative action, via the formal regulatory process.

DACA’s beginning, without formal rulemaking or congressional action, has been at the heart of efforts to overturn the program. Supporters had tried to include DACA along with broader immigration provisions in a budget reconciliation bill, but the language was blocked by the Senate parliamentarian.

Some legal scholars said the proposed rule would shore up the program. “The 205-page rule is an effort to bullet-proof the existing program from litigation challenges,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell Law School.

Others aren’t so sure. Michael A. Olivas, a professor emeritus at the University of Houston Law Center and an expert on the history of DACA, said the regulation would do nothing to buttress the program’s legal footing because the Trump administration had never tried to properly shut it down. 

“It’s considered constitutional until it’s determined it isn’t,” said Olivas, who argues that a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision blocking President Trump from ending DACA is premised on the court’s assumption that the program is constitutional. “I don’t believe there’s an open question about its constitutionality.”

On one point, however, there is broad agreement: The proposed rule does not expand DACA beyond its original eligibility criteria, among them that applicants were younger than 16 when they first came to the U.S., that they be enrolled in school or a high-school grad, that they have been in the U.S. since June 2007, and that they were undocumented in 2012, when the program began, and now.

But that frozen-in-amber criteria will likely block many young undocumented immigrants from qualifying from DACA. In fact, the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and New American Economy estimate that while there are 181,000 DACA-eligible students enrolled in American colleges, the number of undocumented students in U.S. higher education is more than 427,000.

It will take congressional action to give legal protections to all undocumented students, said Miriam Feldblum of the Presidents’ Alliance. “The proposed rule underscores the urgency and imperative of a legislative solution that would provide a pathway to citizenship for all Dreamers.”

The public has until November 29 to submit comments on the rule to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Who Are Undocumented Students?

Let me introduce you to two of them, Alison Kim and Amy Marcalle of Swarthmore College.

Amy, who is studying education and English literature, moved from the Dominican Republic at 12 and settled in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, a community with a large immigrant community and a racially-troubled past. She graduated from community college summa cum laude before coming to Swarthmore.

Alison’s family immigrated to Los Angeles from South Korea 14 years ago, and they went to a wealthy, largely white high school. “I’m pretty sure I was the only undocumented person,” they told me:

“Knowing that there’s somebody who knows that you’re ‘illegal’ is hard. It was difficult to bring that up to academic counselors, and so I had a very difficult time applying to college because of these limitations. And I’m a first generation college student, which means that I had to figure this out all by myself.”

Both students said they have found solidarity with undocumented students at Swarthmore and value the support they have gotten from professors. But other students don’t always fully understand their experience. Amy took a course where a book by an undocumented student was on the syllabus. During the class discussion, students didn’t have “bad opinions,” she said, but she recalls a fellow student criticizing the term “illegal immigrants”:

“She was like, that’s so inhumane. And in my head, I was thinking, imagine living as an undocumented immigrant.”

Alison, who restarted a committee on campus to reform policies for undocumented students, has suggestions about how colleges can better support students. More colleges need to (as Swarthmore does) provide financial support to undocumented students, who don’t qualify for federal aid, and they should develop additional opportunities for funding and work. They should have websites that consolidate resources for undocumented students and make them easily accessible. And while student groups are a crucial source of support, colleges ought to have a point person on staff dedicated to undocumented-student issues, Alison said. 

Amy added college employees need to better understand the challenges undocumented students face. An admissions counselor during her college search asked why she didn’t return to the Dominican Republican and apply to American colleges as an international student, she recalled.

For Amy, a senior, and Alison, a junior, the future is uncertain and scary without more far-reaching action from Washington. Neither student qualifies for DACA and would not be affected by the new regulation. “I don’t want half-way measures,” said Amy, who plans to go into education policy. “I’m not looking to be a lawful undocumented immigrant. I just want to be legal.”

“I can have all these accolades and awards and a Swathmore College education. But at the end of the day, what people are going to see is that I am undocumented. So I always ask myself, what weighs heavier, a liberal-arts elite education or a green card?”

Alison is studying computer science and science technology studies; they dream of getting a Ph.D. and revolutionalizing how computer science is taught. But they worry about leaving the bubble of college:

“I’m very tired. I’m also very scared. I think of a lot of my ‘baggage’ as literal baggage that you just carry, and you can’t stop holding on to it. The more and more as time passes, the more tired you get from carrying all this weight. I am exhausted. I’m constantly living in fear not knowing what my future is going to hold.” 

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Book Contest Winners

In America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility, Rajika Bhandari explores her own history in the context of the broader international-student experience and grapples with the thorny and uncertain future of international enrollments. Rajika teamed up with latitude(s) to give away two signed copies of her book, and we asked participants to be similarly reflective. We posed two questions: What has changed in the past year for you as an international-education professional? And what is one innovative idea to support international students in the U.S.?

Thanks to everyone who entered, and congratulations to our winners, Samantha Brandauer, associate provost and executive director of the Center for Global Study and Engagement at Dickinson College, and Savneet Bains, a doctoral student in educational leadership and policy at the University of Texas at Austin. Here are their winning entries:

Savneet: I started my journey as a Ph.D. student this year. Having prior experience in corporate settings and as a high school career counselor, getting perspectives into the higher-education domain is truly inspiring. As an international student, being exposed to the benefits and challenges of higher education from a global lens, especially when the pandemic is highlighting the cracks in the system, is interesting. The opportunity of learning from and with people of different backgrounds is leading to self reflection and the urge to produce innovative research.

While international students struggle in multifarious ways, one of the major missing tiles for them is a sense of belonging. While universities make efforts to make them feel at home, I feel the surface can be scratched a little more to involve their families and dependents (mostly in graduate school). If their loved ones feel connected to the university, student success rates are sure to rise. The International office can have programs for increased interaction with families in forms of virtual coffee sessions, campus tours, organizing fun events, and staying in constant communication with them in various ways.

Samantha: What has changed most is the way I think about leadership and getting more comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but we are going to figure this out together.” It has been so important to model this comfort with uncertainty and ethos of collaboration for my team, colleagues all over the world, and students. We do not have it all figured out, and we need to be able to be open, honest, and rely on each other. This can be an uncomfortable and vulnerable position to be in as a leader in higher education, but it has been so valuable in motivating us to innovate while supporting each other during extremely challenging times.

We have shifted how we think about international students and their overall integration into our campus and community at Dickinson. We are de-siloing our work across many areas of the college — global, DEI, sustainability, civic action and learning, advising — to build a community that is more inclusive and equitable for all our students. We are focusing on how our international students find a sense of belonging in our community and how that intersects with other underrepresented students on campus. In practice, this fall we changed the way we did all new student orientation and made changes to the content that better supported the international student experience instead of needing to pull international students out into special sessions. We saw this as a change that supported all new students navigating an unfamiliar environment and finding their place.

Around the Globe

The National Science Foundation’s Office of the Inspector General wants to beef up its staff to investigate inappropriate foreign contacts or undeclared financial support.

A pair of Chinese students who pleaded guilty to taking pictures of a Florida naval base have been stuck in ICE detention far beyond their sentences because they haven’t been able to return to China.

Israeli diplomats tried to pressure the University of North Carolina to remove a graduate student who criticized Israel from teaching a course on the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Scholars of South Asia worry that pressure from Hindu nationalist groups could undermine academic freedom after a conference led to threats of violence. This isn’t the first incident.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged a big investment in research and development and to strengthen the country’s talent pool.

A new Quad Fellowship will support 100 students from Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. for graduate study in STEM at top American universities.

Australia will include Chinese and Indian vaccines among those approved for international travelers, which could make it easier for foreign students to return.

A new report from the World Bank says that higher education will be key to post-Covid economic recovery around the globe.

The British Council is hoping to reverse declines in European students at UK universities.

The Forum on Education Abroad has renewed its partnership with Dickinson College.

After a Chinese student was murdered, another Chinese graduate of American higher education reflects on the lessons about society, justice, and race from her death.

To keep up with the latest updates between newsletters, follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

And finally…

In a scandal in the academic-publishing world, a peer-reviewed journal was recently found to have published more than 400 nonsensical papers. One combined ecological risk assessment with an analysis of the similarities between tennis and badminton. Another tackled groundwater seepage before seguing into a discussion of dance training, a mash-up of information about rare-earth elements and admonishments to “tighten buttocks” during warm-up exercises. At least five papers on swimming and seven on basketball have been published in this geosciences journal.

Reporter Tom Bartlett called the papers “bizarre,” “mindbending,” and “completely bonkers.” He tried to unpack the mystery behind their publication. Was it a prank? An effort to expose a lazy review process? Editorial malfeasance?

One clue Bartlett found was that the overwhelming majority were written by authors who claim to be affiliated with Chinese universities. There’s been a push to publish in Chinese higher education, with some researchers even receiving cash bonuses for papers in more highly cited journals. “Such mandates create a strong — some might say perverse — incentive to get a paper, any paper, into a journal,” Bartlett concludes.

An investigation is being conducted, but meanwhile, we readers can dig into a two-for-one study of sea-level height and aerobics training.

’Til next week —Karin

A freelance journalist and expert on global issues in higher ed, Karin has been writing for more than a decade about the changing relationship between American colleges and the world.