Emotional Scars of Deportation Threats

On July 6, 2020, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) announced that international students studying in the USA would be deported if they took more than 3 credits worth of online classes. 

While the fact of deportation itself was nothing new to international students, the idea of being forced to leave their safe place during a pandemic with no money and no guarantee that they can go home was terrifying.

I remember that I was lying on my bed scrolling through Instagram when I started getting texts from friends on different social media platforms asking things like, “Did you see this??” and “What are we going to do?

I quickly opened Google News and looked for the news story from various sources before fully believing and comprehending that there was a chance I was going to be deported. 

My emotions seemed to have disappeared as I texted my friends back, “We’ll figure this out. Let’s email our professors to see if our classes are hybrid.”

I went back to scrolling through Instagram, but I did not comprehend any of the content I was seemingly consuming. My mind seemed to be deadly quiet as I kept thinking, “Classes are going to be hybrid. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.”

A week later, that directive got rescinded. University Giants like Harvard, NYU, and MIT sued ICE for trying to deport their students. 

“They only care about our money,” was the only thought that repeated in my mind as I failed to feel the sense of relief that I expected would come.

International students were never allowed to take more than 3 credits worth of online classes each semester, and they have to be full time students when they arrive in the USA. I’d made sure to take only one online class each semester, but after the pandemic shut schools down, we all had to take our classes online.

A lot of my friends went back home, but my lack of money and fear of not being able to enter the USA to finish my education kept me from leaving.

I am a South Asian student who has to fight a lot of odds and lots of special checks at the airport everytime I hold my passport to enter the USA.It made the idea of leaving the country with a year left on my visa a terrifying idea.The stories of Nepali students not being allowed to enter the USA after having gotten to the airport even though they had plenty of time left on their visas had been hammered into my brain when I first left Nepal. 

Since I arrived in 2017, I have gone back home twice, and every time I am on the flight back to the USA, a mind-numbing anxiety takes over me and I constantly worry that I won’t be let back in, that I won’t get to finish my education. My giant folder full of certificates, I-20s, and on-campus job contracts is always in my backpack so I can show proof of my validity as a student in the USA. 

Being threatened with deportation for something I could not control and laws that the country/state had mandated seemed ridiculous. I couldn’t go back home because there weren’t enough COVID-19 tests in my country and the hospitals were filled with the sick. My friends were protesting in Nepal for better health care systems to be put in place so that everyone would get equal treatment. Most of the country did not even know that there was a pandemic going on. 

Being asked to leave the country with no money or guarantee that I would make it safely back home or get to continue my education, and no access to information from anyone on the subject matter made me completely numb to any kind of emotions for almost three months.

Two months later, I am still struggling with the news of being deported. 

I no longer willingly tell new people that I’m an international student, a fact that I once shared with pride. I am terrified that phrases like, “Go back home” will be thrown towards me. 

ICE and the Trump administration might have had a directive to deport international students for only a week, but the emotional scars are still stinging.