New Staffer Rania Borgani attended a lecture entitled Ballots and Borders: Election 2020 and What’s at Stake for International Students and Scholars. The lecture, given by Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr, centered around the immigration policies of two presidential candidates and their potential effects on international scholars. 

On Monday morning, I attended a lecture by Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr of Cornell University Law School who broke down the immigration policies of both Trump and Biden. Professor Yale-Loehr also gave context on various immigration processes and provided different immigrant success stories. The event was sponsored by various organizations and departments at Cornell University.

The lecture was formatted as a webinar, with Professor Yale-Loehr speaking while showing slides. He began his presentation by touching on what types of people immigrate and then moved onto President Trump’s policy and what he may do if he wins reelection. Professor Yale-Loehr later spoke to what immigration reform might look like under a Biden administration and ended by telling viewers how we can possibly enact change when it comes to topics like immigration. 

By explicitly talking about immigration policies in the context of the election, Professor Yale-Loehr made one thing very clear: your vote for president will have a major impact on any future immigration reform. While immigration can feel like a distanced topic that may not directly affect some students, this is absolutely not true. At Columbia, we interact with international students every day, and in his lecture, Professor Yale-Loehr details exactly the kind of uncertainty that international students are currently experiencing. Under normal circumstances, international students must comply with various rules such as graduating on time, being enrolled full time, and only working in specific jobs. 

Under the Trump Administration, being an international student has become increasingly difficult. Professor Yale-Loehr detailed some of Trump’s actions that have created these new challenges. He described how there has been an increase in deportation, which means that international students who overstay their visas can be deported. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump recently suspended the visas of many students coming from China. Trump had initially declared that international students must transfer or leave the country if a school is completely online; however, he reversed this order after institutions like Harvard and MIT fought back and came to a settlement. Many other universities (including Columbia) condemned this measure. Professor Yale-Loehr pointed out that this was an incredible demonstration of support for students from abroad and applauded their efforts. 

Professor Yale-Loehr went on to predict what Trump might do in his second term as president. He declared that Trump will continue to use the pandemic as justification for restricting asylum applications, lowering refugee caps, and increasing restrictions to green cards. Additionally, Trump will most likely continue in his fight to end DACA (a program protecting kids brought into the United States illegally by their parents from deportation). He would also try to give officers and immigration judges broader authority to deny asylum as well as create a point system for some immigrants of which, according to the NYT, only 2% of Americans would actually pass. Professor Yale-Loehr made it very clear that a second term of Trump would increase anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and appoint those who maintain a hostile attitude towards immigrants to positions of power. 

When speaking about Biden and his policies, Professor Yale-Loehr acknowledged that Biden had numerous ideas in terms of reform that spanned outside of immigration. He explained that this could mean less of a focus on immigration measures, however, Professor Yale-Loehr also suggested that Biden will likely undo much of what Trump did. Undoing policies that make getting a visa that much more demanding would help all immigrants in their journey to coming to the United States (including international students). Professor Yale-Loehr detailed what some of this “undoing” might entail. He argued that a Biden administration would fight to preserve DACA and increase visas. He would address the visa backlogs that the Trump Administration has only exacerbated. Additionally, Biden would try to preserve the Diversity Immigrant Visa program (a lottery program that typically admits around 50,000 immigrants per year) that President Trump is also trying to get rid of. The Trump Administration has garnered backlash over inappropriate behavior by ICE agents, and Biden plans to address this by creating better training programs and oversight. Professor Yale-Loehr also noted that Biden will try to push immigration reform laws through Congress, but this is extremely difficult (the last major immigration law was passed in 1990 for context) and much of his reform will be taken through administrative powers as was the same for Trump. 

He ended his presentation by telling participants how to become more involved and help out immigrants waiting for a green card. One of his suggestions was to educate ourselves and share our newfound knowledge as well as comment on immigration policies. Through this lecture, I gained more empathy and understanding of the hardships immigrants face, including our international friends on campus. All who are interested in hearing more of what Professor Yale-Loehr had to say should watch his lecture, available here

In addition to being a law professor, Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr also wrote a book that documents various immigrant success stories. He told us some of these stories by providing a picture and giving a description of what the person had to endure. At first, I thought the point was to simply show that it is possible to enter and stay in the United States despite the increasing number of restrictions and numerous backlogs. However, upon further reflection, I realized that these stories didn’t just serve to give viewers this unrealistic and idealized hope, but rather emphasize the difficulties of immigrating and demonstrate how luck and timing are also major factors of the process. Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr truly illustrated how complex the immigration process is and how there is no one perfect way to immigrate. 

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