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New ICE Rule Creates Uncertainty For N.H.'s International Students

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

With a new federal immigration regulation, international students at Dartmouth College are unsure what this coming school year will look like for them.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday that international students can’t take a full online course load this year and remain in the U.S.

Instead, these students are told they must either transfer to a school offering in-person classes, or leave the country.

Last week, Dartmouth announced it would allow half of its students back on campus for each term, but that almost all instruction would be online, with few exceptions.

Marco Cabrera is a rising senior studying economics at Dartmouth, and he’s been at home in Costa Rica since mid-March. He says, as one of about 400 international undergraduate students at the college, the announcement creates even more uncertainty during an uncertain time.

“If you can’t live on campus, then how do you find housing off campus? Do you afford it? There’s all these questions always going around,” he said. “Immigration law just adds further complications to those considerations and those decisions. But it’s something that we’re used to at this point.”

Ron Abramson is an immigration attorney at the Manchester firm Shaheen & Gordon.

He says earlier in the pandemic immigration authorities offered more flexibility for these international students, making an exception for them to take a full online course load while remaining in the country.

“What they announced was their intention to enforce a preexisting regulation with a hyper restrictive mindset in a time when public health realities are forcing schools to adjust the way they convene,” Abramson said.

Cabrera, who is also the vice president of the Dartmouth International Student Association, says the international students’ WhatsApp group chat has been blowing up this week.

“A lot of us have become unofficial immigration law connoisseurs,” Cabrera said. “We deal with this stuff all the time. We hear the struggles that our friends are dealing with all the time.”  

Cabrera says he and other students are in communication with Dartmouth administrators about their situation.

A college spokesperson says Dartmouth is examining the implications of the proposed rule change and will communicate with students once they know more.

On Wednesday, the college filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit by MIT and Harvard against new ICE regulations.

In the lawsuit, the colleges ask a federal court to prevent ICE and the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing the new guidance and to declare it unlawful.

In a statement, Dartmouth said that “any action inhibiting the free exchange of talent and ideas limits our ability to advance Dartmouth’s academic mission.”

The University of New Hampshire also issued a statement in support of its international students, saying that the new policies are "incredibly unfair and harmful." 

While UNH will be offering both in-person and online classes, the university says that this "limits the flexibility we need to plan for a variety of contingencies while ensuring we can provide high-quality education in the safest and most effective way possible." 

Daniela is an editor in NHPR's newsroom. She leads NHPR's Spanish language news initiative, ¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire? and the station's climate change reporting project, By Degrees. You can email her at dallee@nhpr.org.

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