In appreciation and defense of international students in German Studies and beyond

A promise of solidarity from DDGC, WiG, the GSA, BGHRA, and the CAUTG Social Justice Committee, 

15 July 2020

Today we, teachers and researchers in German Studies, share the relief our students and friends feel at seeing the new restrictions on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), issued by the United States Department of State and ICE on July 6, 2020, rescinded without further delay. We recognize that this rescindment would not have been forthcoming from the federal government, were it not for a timely and expensive suit supported by over 200 colleges and universities across the country. We are grateful for everyone—aides, researchers, lawyers, plaintiffs, food delivery workers, officers of the court, and family members—who unexpectedly sacrificed a week of summer, during this pandemic, to head off a punitive policy that ought never have been conceived in the first place. 

We further recognize that such punitive policies will likely continue to be introduced and implemented, damaging our schools’, students’, and communities’ well-being over the coming months, and that we will soon need to rely again on these colleagues’ unflinching and courageous work to defeat the next such policy. We see clearly that the federal government is engaged in a chaotic shock strategy, designed to distract and divide us in a moment already marred by fear, pain, impoverishment, and hopelessness. We will not fall for it, if you won’t. We will never leave our students and friends defenseless and isolated, whether or not they hold US citizenship, permanent resident status, one kind of visa versus another, or documentation of any kind. We will stand by them today and permanently—in our institutional actions, teaching, and public work. 

The Diversity, Decolonization and the German Curriculum collective, the Coalition of Women in German, the German Studies Association Committee for the Initiative on Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion, the Black German Heritage and Research Association, and the Social Justice Committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German join with one another in rejecting the spirit of punishment and intimidation that these recent policies represented. We also endorse the statement issued by our colleagues at the Modern Language Association, the statement by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and the letter by the American Historical Association outlining the damage and harm that these types of proposed restrictions cause.

We will learn from this moment, and we will not forget it, even as it brings us and our fellows, friends, and students momentary relief. We know that more and more judges are currently being confirmed by the US Senate who would gladly support policies that instill fear in students and sow enmity for generations to come. The intent and effect of the attempted SEVP restrictions (together with the recent restrictions on J and HB-1 visas) were always a xenophobic exclusion of international students from college and university life in the United States, as well as increased coercive strategy to force our colleges and universities into in-person courses despite the public health train wreck this would ensure. 

Despite the rescindment, many of the schools in which we teach are already feeling the devastating effects of these clustered and disruptive decisions, as our international students make the difficult choice to defer or cancel their participation in our programs, given the uncertainty they face both in terms of visas and in terms of US responses to Covid-19. Our international scholars and students play central, courageous roles as teachers and researchers in our communities. They provide integral contributions to intellectual life at all levels and in all areas of our academic communities. As a consequence of recent visa restrictions, institutions of higher education face significant barriers to fulfilling their research and teaching missions. Meanwhile, students in locations with insecure internet access or who are in insecure living conditions find themselves excluded from participation in college and university courses if they cannot travel to the US. Furthermore, any action that potentially leads to spikes in Covid-19 (such as in-person classes held when it is unsafe to do so) will disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities in the United States. The evidence continues to pile up showing the ways in which Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people are more severely affected by the spread of the virus (recently summarized in this New York Times article) – Black and Latinx people are three times more likely to become infected and twice as likely to die.

In other words, these visa restrictions and other recent changes in immigration policy mobilize bald-faced xenophobic ideas about who legitimately belongs in our intellectual and research communities, and perpetuate racist inequities that once again target the lives of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. They impugn the invaluable contributions made to our research (and, of course, overall society) by international scholars and students. They threaten to decimate the standing of US colleges and universities in the world. 

In the coming weeks and months, we call on all of our institutions of learning to reject such restrictions as these outright, and instead to work to honor and defend the vital international intellectual exchange which our institutions have fostered over the decades to uplift research, teaching, innovation, and transnational collaboration.