Are we keeping faith with international students?

Photo by Tamir Kalifa

The recent tenor of American political rhetoric and policy regarding immigration is having a disturbing effect in higher education circles in Texas.

I have come to know many international students over the last ten years as a teacher and tutor in Dallas County Community Colleges at El Centro in Dallas and North Lake College in Irving, and at Collin College in Plano. They began their American educations by meeting stringent requirements and qualifications, with the understanding that, as students who performed well academically, they could finish what they started. Now, many of them no longer risk the occasional trip home due to concerns they would not be allowed to reenter American borders. Many of them must suddenly weigh whether they need a Plan B, and if so, how soon.

Their departure would be our loss.

The invective used to justify the shift in immigration policy has focused on insularity, scapegoating and crude stereotyping. In no way does this rationale represent the opinion of the Americans who can arguably claim to know these students best: their teachers. Educators know that most international students are here at considerable sacrifice to themselves and their families, and can remain only if they excel academically even while working in a second language. These policies have thrown these students’ futures into uncertainty at a critical time in their lives. A rite of passage that began with a welcome should not end as an ignoble act of bad faith.

Many of America’s influential leaders in business, government, industry, medicine and research began as international students; some worked long and hard to become citizens. They came as students, succeeded as graduates and remained to make a difference. It took generations of them to build America’s academic reputation for offering the widest scope and opportunity to fulfill a dream, but the word spread. The hubris required to think the country better off without such seekers is a particularly backward and dangerous one and would result in a needless and tragic loss; even under new and visionary leadership, it would prove difficult to rebuild that reputation.

The plight of these students, who have no voice or vote in our government, should be a vital concern and a cause for Texans who do. It represents only one element of a broader move against education as mystifying as it is sinister in its implications. President Trump’s full budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, released late last month, includes a breathtaking 13.5 percent education spending cut ($9.2 billion), from kindergarten through government aid to higher education, without which a large percentage of international students cannot remain. Whatever justifications the administration might provide for such a self-inflicted wound would be well and truly forgotten by the time the eroding effects on both state and national workforces and economies appear. That would begin within one generation.

Such a budget cannot pass, however, without the approval of Congress. The teachers and administrators of American higher education should call on legislators to see sense, act ethically and send a clear message to Mr. Trump that they will not be on board for such a disaster. Texas voters should join us, raising their voices and votes in this year’s mid-term elections. There is too much at stake.

Mark Smith

Pastor, instructor