July 15, 2020

FPI Statement on ICE Policy toward International Students

As an organization devoted to scientific research and education, Field Projects International (FPI) not only values the contributions and hard work of international students, we actually depend upon their skills and intellect to advance our mission. In fact, some of us were international students ourselves (including our president and co-founder). We believe that this country’s greatness does not come from insularity and xenophobia, but is a gestalt forged from diverse strengths, peoples, and perspectives.  

Society benefits in countless ways from the progress of science, improving everything from our health and economy to our basic understanding of how nature works. For science to flourish, though, it requires diverse voices within its community, interacting and pushing forward with new ideas. For this reason, and on grounds of general conscience, FPI strongly opposed the plan by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end the exemption to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). This exemption acknowledged the extraordinary situation of the current global pandemic, and removing it would have forced approximately one million international students (Nonimmigrant F-1 and M1 visas) enrolled in online-only academic programs to leave the United States. 

Thankfully, this directive was recently rescinded (i.e. the exemption extended), but it is vital to remember that this was just one example in a long line of actions aimed at menacing and disrupting the lives of those who don’t fit the regressive, myopic vision of what America is and who belongs here. It was also an attempt to senselessly obstruct border-free intellectual exchange, and it would have been injurious to not only the futures of bright and motivated scholars, but also to the broader scientific community — and ultimately American society at large.

Much like when family separation was partially stopped, or the attempt to end DACA failed, this victory must be viewed in context: amid a torrent of attacks that both indicate and expand upon the influence of a radicalized culture fomenting intolerance and dehumanization. Consider, for instance, that no justification was ever officially given for the ICE policy change. There was apparently no need to make an argument for a policy that would not only create unnecessary obstacles and hardships for international students (and have no discernible benefit to U.S. citizens or employers), but that would also interfere egregiously with scientific research across all fields of study. Without an official attempt to justify the unjustifiable, we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves. 

At FPI, we oppose such unnecessary disruptions to the lives of our valued student colleagues, as well as condemn the devaluing of their contributions to the scholarly community. More broadly, we advocate for increasing –not diminishing– the goodwill between the US and the rest of the world. Only together can we solve the overwhelming global issues facing us all. We believe that this fact should be foundational to future policy-making, rather than allowing ourselves to be guided by divisive ideologies.


Mrinalini Watsa, FPI President
Gideon Erkenswick, FPI Director
Ben Lybarger, FPI Education and Outreach Coordinator