Politics meddling in the lives of foreign students

By Kit  Geary

Politics editor

When Donald Trump entered the White House in 2017, he signed an Executive Order that put a Muslim ban into effect. Sarah Childs, Associate Dean and Director of the Center of Multicultural Affairs at St. Michael’s, was working at UVM’s Mosaic Center for Students of Color at the time and had multiple Muslim students. She had to act fast to figure out what this meant for her students. It was one of many signs that these students would be marginalized under this administration. For those who were student visitors here, the message they weren’t welcome was becoming clear.

There are a few major policies and mandates that affect international students, yet the students have no say in who is making these policies and mandates. Around 20 million immigrants in the U.S. were voiceless during the 2020 presidential election. This does not include the 1,316,067 college student visitors on an F-1 visa, they are not categorized as immigrants. Other student visitors in the U.S. are here through a green card or are undocumented. All students that fall into these groups are unable to vote in a presidential election.

“Honestly from the outside, it’s hard to stay motivated to keep up with politics because I don’t have a voice in it, but I have to because I know it affects me,” said Jenna Harrison ’22, a Canada native. 

 “ In 2017 there were a lot of efforts in Vermont to organize rights workshops through organizations like the ACLU. I would go because I worked with a lot of students whose countries were on the ban list, I had to be informed for their sake,” said Sarah Childs, Associate Dean and Director of the Center of Multicultural Affairs. The Muslim ban was among the first of the policies that international students were going to see influence their opportunity to get an education, yet it is not the most recent. 

 It was ruled on November 15 by a federal judge that the DACA rules under Trump’s administration are now invalid. DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allows students a path to go to school in the U.S. from different countries according to Childs. Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, on July 28 suspended all new applications to DACA, halting 640,000 people from studying in the United States. This all came falling down when a federal judge recently ruled that Wolf was not legally serving when he signed off on DACA. Therefore the suspension will not be upheld.

Decisions made by the Trump administration surrounding the global pandemic also severely affected international students’ ability to study in the U.S during 2020. The New York Times reported 50,000 permanent slots would be blocked because of the 60-day ban on green cards put into place this April. Families all over the world scrambled during this time. Green cards can take years to obtain and the process ultimately cost families thousands of dollars. No matter what status international students fall under, the actions made by a presidential administration can have major impacts on their lives. 

“Trump says many things that irritate the Chinese government. My family was concerned about what the relationship would be like in the future if he got elected again, that could directly influence me being here,” said Anonymous, a China native and international student on an F-1 visa at St. Michael’s. People from all over the world tuned into this presidential election. For those who have loved ones studying here, the results of the election were important. 

 “Depending on where people are from, it matters to them what their home country’s relationship is with the U.S.,” Childs said, noting that students from other countries have varying opinions on the 2020 election, ranging from support of Trump’s second term to hoping for Biden to win. “This is in terms of trade policies, history with the U.S. military, and past international conflicts.” Some nations such as Mexico and Turkey have a poor relationship with America because of Donald Trump, others favored his politics and were rooting for a second term.

“A lot of people from other Asian countries equate Trump with being anti-China. They admire him for being able to stand up to a relatively powerful force in the East,” said Hazel Kieu ’22, a Vietnam native.

“There are plenty of foreign-born Indians who are in support of Trump because of nationalism. The current prime minister of India is a nationalist and Indian people find commonalities between the two leaders,” Childs said. While some students may find parallels between U.S. politics and that of their own country, others are left to grapple with the complexities of the American electoral process. 

“My cousins and I talk about their American friends and how they will chat their ear off about politics no matter what side. In Canada I don’t really see any heated political discussions like the ones that happen here,” Harrison said, who currently is on a green card while attending school in the U.S. She has dual citizenship in Italy and Canada and is unable to obtain citizenship in the U.S. because of this. Living back and forth between Canada and the U.S. Harrison has noticed a major difference between the political landscapes of the two. The word that constantly comes to Harrison’s mind while thinking about American politics she said is “controversial.”

This controversy has especially been prevalent over social media platforms. People have not shied away from tearing apart the opposing political party on Facebook and Instagram. Media is how the majority of the globe gets its information about American politics. Does the constant fighting over social media take away the validity of American politics for people watching from other countries?  

Illustration by Kit Geary

“Since moving to the U.S. in 2016 I have come to realize that politics are much more sensational in an advertised way than like genuine politics, it makes me not want to participate because I think a two-party system isn’t realistic,” Kieu said, an F-1 visa holder. Hazel Kieu grew up in Vietnam and came to Maine to attend highschool. The 2016 election was her first glimpse at American politics. She said that what she has witnessed appalled her. 

It was the aftermath of Trump’s victory that Kieu found most shocking. “There is so much more conflict here than the general American picture that is portrayed globally, that was an eye-opening moment for me. It’s when I realized that the whole friendliness and hospitality of the U.S. is a lie, it’s simply a front.”