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Carolina Pachetti / Gavel Media

Immigration Policies Matter: Recent Debates and How International College Students Are Impacted

With immigration and border control headlines plastered across news stations, Americans are quick to take sides in the debate. Immigration is a hot-button topic in the coming 2024 election, but many Americans fail to visualize how immigration policies impact them and their communities. College students overlook their international peers who struggle to gain citizenship and work visas after they graduate.

Samiksh Jain, MCAS '26, an international studies and English student from Bombay, India, said, "It is discrimination, but it is legal. They can say straight-up oh, we just do not want to hire non-citizens just for convenience."

American policies make it extraordinarily difficult for immigrants to live and work in the country, and laws change frequently. Party majorities and elected officials are the most crucial factors when looking at the successes and failures of border policy. The president and Congress have control of immigration, and policies sway as committees shift between Republican and Democratic majorities.

Cities are seeing a sharp increase in migrants seeking refuge, and Congress, as the norm for many issues, is divided. Americans lose interest in debates that have no end, especially when they do not feel connected to the issue, but international students know immigration policies affect them.

Jain said, "Trump made it harder when he was in office. He decreased the number of H1V spots so even fewer people could apply for the visa. As soon as Trump was elected, counselors were telling us to look at Europe, U.K., Australia, and Canada - over America - for education."

While the crisis at the Southern border and student work visas are different sub-topics of the national immigration policy debates, getting to and staying in America is becoming more difficult for people. For international students, finding work that allows them to stay in the U.S. has proven to be an issue.

Sarah You, '26, a computer science and psychology student from Wuhan, China, said, "[My future] has always been on the back of my mind, and I have shed so many tears over it."

The U.S. offers one-year OPCPTs and three-year OPCPTs to humanity and STEM graduates, respectively. You added her Computer Science major to work towards the three-year (STEM) OPTCPT, which allows for more time to work for and/or gain citizenship. The struggle does not end after graduation. Employers ask if potential employees need future sponsorship; in fact, it is the first screening many managers look at. You have been cut from more jobs in the first round than her friends who have green cards.

"Not a lot of people know this, and not a lot of people care. It is tough. If you talk to more international students, you will get to see this is something we all are struggling with," You said.

The lives of international students are only getting more challenging, as are the lives of people seeking to live in the U.S. People have been turning to lawmakers to aid the overflowing shelters, shaky border control, and failing policies. Now, with no change in sight, thousands of migrant families are left with no answer on where to go, many ending up on airport floors. Boston Logan Airport has been hosting hundreds of families for weeks, as the entire Northeast is seeing a surge in families coming to America for security.

Immigration used to be a founding principle of American life, as the nation was built upon people moving into the country. America's welcoming policies positively fueled nationalistic views throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Now, as immigration and border control debates ravage Congress, anti-immigration policies are weaponized to fuel xenophobic ideals.

You said, "America has always seemed to me to be a melting plot, and it felt like for years, people were proud of that. They wanted to talk about their ancestry and identity. I do not know what happened, but you can see the worse xenophobia through the harsher border control."

The topic of immigration policies is only going to evolve in 2024 with the presidential election. While the immigration debates in Congress may leave people feeling hopeless, there are important actions everyone can take to aid those who are impacted the most by these policies. Becoming educated on the history of immigration in America and the current policy debates at hand is a terrific way to prepare for the election.

It is also important to fight the systemic xenophobia that shapes many of the rigid policy debates. The first step to help those most affected is to listen to those who have different experiences and fight xenophobia through words and actions.

"Students should start by trying to be more understanding of people's accents and languages because people don't grow up with the same education as you," said Jain. "If you have international friends, we really appreciate when people listen to what we are saying."

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