I have been an international student in the United States for many years. Since I’m pursuing a second degree now, I’ve been here close to 12 years during two different periods. That means I have witnessed several presidential elections. I’ve been here for the 2004, 2008, 2016 and now the 2020 elections. As an international student, I cannot vote in this country, but people have asked me how I feel about the upcoming election. Well, here it is.
I no longer feel safe. What if they try again to find a way to deport legal immigrants like myself? What happens then? How can I avoid that when I’ve done everything right? That is what uncertainty feels like.
When I started thinking about how I feel regarding this upcoming election, there are two ways to describe what came to mind: I feel uncertainty and I feel targeted.
I feel targeted by the current administration and I feel uncertainty about the possibility that it may continue after Nov. 3.
Now, you may wonder why I feel targeted. Since the past presidential election in 2016, Trump has made it a point to portray Mexican immigrants as “drug dealers, criminals and rapists.” Even though I’m not Mexican, I am Latino and we all know there are people who use the term “Mexicans” generally.
Words have a lot of power, and this type of divisive rhetoric has gained steam, as more people feel comfortable displaying their racism now. The current social state of the country is something I have never seen and something I never thought I would see in the United States. In fact, the word united is a far description of how the country is right now.
But the biggest reason why I feel targeted came this past July. In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration issued a new measure that targeted international students. It required for us to have, at least, one face-to-face/hybrid class during fall 2020. Those students who were enrolled in institutions that were offering online classes only had two choices: transfer to an institution that would offer face-to-face/hybrid classes, or leave the United States to continue with their education in their home country. If neither requirement was fulfilled, students would be stripped of their visas and face deportation.
Both of those requirements were almost impossible to fulfill. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of countries still had their airports closed to international flights — especially those coming from the United States where the virus was hitting the hardest.
That’s what happened in my case. Even if I wanted to go back to my home country to continue the online classes from there, I couldn’t because the airports were, and still are, closed to international flights.
That left the option of transferring to a school that would offer face-to-face/hybrid instruction. Unfortunately, or should I say conveniently, the Trump administration issued this measure by mid-July, just about the time when the deadline to transfer to a different institution expires.
With no time to fill out the required paperwork for a transfer and without the possibility to exit the country, international students all over the United States were left facing one outcome: deportation.
Through all my years in this country, I always took pride in being here legally with a student visa, contributing to the economy and paying taxes. It made me feel safe. It made me feel confident in the fact that I didn’t have to live with the fear of getting deported. Not anymore.
Granted, Harvard and MIT sued the federal government to block the measure and the Trump administration was forced to remove the directive a week after they had announced it, but the damage was done. I no longer feel safe. What if they try again to find a way to deport legal immigrants like myself? What happens then? How can I avoid that when I’ve done everything right? That is what uncertainty feels like.
For now, all I can do is to continue doing the right things and hope for the best. However, it’s frustrating to see the lack of empathy and divisive rhetoric this administration has shown while knowing I can’t participate in the voting process. But you can.
You can change the course this country is heading toward with this administration. This is a decisive time in the history of the United States, and your vote can lend a voice to people like me. Remember that on Nov. 3.