UC union fights back against ICE international student guidelines

UAW Local 2865 protests against ICE international students ruling at the ICE field office in San Francisco.
UAW 2865/Courtesy
In response to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's statement that international students will have to take an in-person class to qualify for a visa, members of United Auto Workers Local 2865, the union for UC student workers, protest at the ICE field office in San Francisco.

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Following a July 6 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement that international students will be required to take in-person classes to stay in the country, many groups, including United Auto Workers Local 2865, are fighting back.

UAW Local 2865 is the union’s UC branch and represents many academic workers, including graduate student instructors and readers. It is mounting a multipronged fight against the ICE guidance by organizing protests, supporting affected students and lobbying state representatives, according to Kai Yui Samuel Chan, a head steward at UAW Local 2865.

More than 17 states, including California, and multiple colleges across the country have filed lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. The UC Board of Regents also plans to file a lawsuit.

The union organized protests at ICE field offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle on Monday, the day before the hearing for a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to Chan, UAW Local 2865 is concerned that schools will have to choose between deporting international students and reopening their campuses under the new ICE guidelines.

“Either option, we found unacceptable,” Chan said. “We are hoping the school will find a third way that ensures both our safety and security.”

Chan added that the lawsuits have two main goals: to repeal the policy definitively and to get a temporary restraining order that would halt its implementation. 

To successfully argue for a restraining order, Chan said, the plaintiffs need to demonstrate that the new policy imposes harm on international students. UAW Local 2865 is doing this by collecting stories from affected students through an online form.

One such student is Yi-Chen Lee, a UC Berkeley graduate student in the political science department.

Lee said she was detained upon her arrival at San Francisco International Airport on July 7. She added that she left Taipei, Taiwan, just after the new policy was announced and was required to undergo secondary questioning after going through customs in San Francisco.

According to Lee, the officers detaining her eventually let her go after asking whether her classes would be in person in the fall and why she returned to campus if she is not taking summer classes.

Before she was released, however, Lee claimed an officer implied she should “self-deport” if her fall classes are online.

Lee added that she is feeling “uncertainty, a little anxiety, but mostly indignation” about the new rule. She is unsure whether she would continue her program if she has to return home, as the 15-hour time difference between Berkeley and Taiwan caused “severe detrimental effects” during the spring.

Contact Clara Brownstein at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @clarabrownstein.