- - Thursday, July 16, 2020

Along with thousands of other international students, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief on Tuesday. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) finally gave up on implementing a rule change that would’ve forced most of us to self-deport from the United States before fall semester starts.

ICE had previously reversed the exemption made during the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed hundreds of thousands of international students to continue living in America while universities gave classes fully online. My graduate department at Columbia University is currently grappling with whether or not to hold in-person classes, and the Trump administration essentially decided I should just get deported if it doesn’t. It was an attempt to blackmail universities into reopening, and it used me and people like me as pawns in a political game. 

Harvard and MIT sued, but as a judge was preparing to rule on an injunction, the Trump administration thankfully backed out.

But this may not be the end of the administration’s campaign against international students. Just after walking back the new rule, a Homeland Security official said the administration is still working on another, similar rule. This and other immigration restrictions recently imposed by the Trump administration are wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy and betraying the American long-standing principle of welcoming freedom-seeking immigrants.

When I first learned that I’d won a scholarship that would allow me to attend Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, I was over the moon. My mom even cried when she heard the news. In America, I saw a country where I could chase my dream through education — a land of freedom and opportunity that stood in stark contrast to a Venezuela ravaged by socialism and despair.

Yet, when I arrived in the U.S., I was blown away by how many college students not only disagreed with my negative view of socialism, but also supported this nefarious ideology. I knew I had to speak out. I wrote op-eds, appeared on national television and at many events, desperate to remind Americans of the realities of socialism.

After all, America is a beautifully unique nation that has afforded me opportunities that don’t exist in most other nations — especially in Venezuela. This past December, I graduated one semester early with honors, then began working in Kentucky, doing economic research. In February, I was admitted to Columbia University’s economics PhD program. I’m living the American dream.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic started, I’ve seen a Trump administration hell-bent on ending all immigration. That’s not the America I’ve long admired.

The just-rescinded ICE rule, would have unnecessarily forced hundreds of thousands of international students to leave America. It’s nonsensical that ICE would force us to leave, only to bring us back in a semester or two. What would we do with our belongings? What would happen to students with health conditions that are vulnerable to COVID-19? How would Venezuelan, Chinese, Iranian and other students take online classes in places without electricity or under censorship? What happened to this being the land of opportunity?

International students haven’t been the only ones targeted. In April, Mr. Trump signed an executive order to stop issuing green cards, and, in June, he signed another order to stop issuing work visas — even for physicians and scientists. Under a newly-proposed rule, all new Venezuelan asylum-seekers could be denied protection. And the government told asylum-seekers to become familiar with “homelessness resources” as a rule just implemented will force them to wait for up to one year in America unemployed.

All of these rules together send an excruciatingly clear message: Foreigners are not welcome here.

While the administration walked back their latest attack against international students, the uncertainty of a new rule haunts us, and this and other immigration restrictions will permanently damage America’s economy.

There’s ample consensus in the economics profession that the immigrants Mr. Trump is banning don’t take jobs away from Americans, but, rather, create new ones because of their productivity and entrepreneurship. The visa and green card bans have shut the doors on people who will now never come. And international students who would’ve considered American universities will instead go to Canada, Australia and other countries.

This will destroy American jobs in higher education and reduce scholarship opportunities for low-income Americans financed by the tuition that international students pay. Since Mr. Trump came into office, the number of non-U.S. citizens residing in America that left permanently for Canada on the basis of skills more than doubled. These restrictions will only accelerate this brain drain.

As a freedom-loving Venezuelan who supports capitalism and opposes the radical left’s attempts to destroy America, I’m afraid that Mr. Trump’s immigration restrictions are transforming America from the welcoming, shining city on a hill I want to fight for into a dark, closed-off nation. Immigrants stand to lose their livelihoods over this. Americans stand to lose their jobs and their country’s founding ideals. So, why do it?

• Daniel Di Martino is an incoming PhD student at Columbia University, a Venezuelan freedom activist, a Young Voices contributor and a research associate at the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at the University of Kentucky.

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