US Christian groups oppose removal of foreign students

Raul Romero poses for a photo at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. International students like Romero will be barred from taking all their classes online even if an outbreak prompts their schools to shift classes online in the US. [File: Raul Romero/Reuters]

Leaders of 12 Christian organisations on Friday urged the Trump administration to rescind a policy requiring international students in the United States to leave the country or transfer if their colleges hold classes entirely online this semester, saying it “falls short of American ideals”.

In a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, shared with The Associated Press news agency, the leaders wrote that the policy “robs our country of the significant contribution” international students make to their colleges on both a personal and economic level. It “lacks compassion” and “violates tenets of our faith”, the letter continued, citing specific Biblical passages.

“International students who have already arrived in the United States and who are enrolled in degree programs should be allowed to complete their courses of study in this country without further disruption,” the leaders said. “This is reasonable, compassionate, and consistent with our national interests.”

Among the signatories are: National Association of Evangelicals president Walter Kim; Council for Christian Colleges and Universities president Shirley Hoogstra; and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday the more than one million international students in the country would not be allowed to take all their classes online this semester. The agency notified colleges that no new visas would be issued to foreign students at schools operating entirely online that term, and those already in the US would be required to transfer or leave the country.

Foreign students will be barred from taking all their classes online even if an outbreak prompts their schools to shift classes online, according to the policy.

The decision has drawn backlash from universities and education groups who say the rules needlessly put students’ safety at risk. Many colleges have come to rely on revenue from foreign students, who are typically charged higher tuition rates.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued to block the policy, and California became the first state to seek an injunction against it.

Kim and Moore previously signed onto a letter in April that asked the Trump administration to consider releasing low-safety-risk immigration detainees, particularly those with a higher risk for the coronavirus, to facilitate social distancing during the pandemic. They, along with several others joining Friday’s letter, are part of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of Christian leaders advocating for immigration reform.

Other signatories of Friday’s letter include: the president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry; the executive director of the international student ministry at Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ; and the president of World Relief, a Christian humanitarian group.

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