On and After Election Day, We Keep Organizing Against Attacks on Immigrants
Written by David Parsons (President of UAW Local 4121, the Union of Academic Student Employees and Postdocs at the University of Washington), Kavitha Iyengar (President of UAW Local 2865, the UC Student-Workers Union), and Anke Schennink (President of UAW Local 5810, the Union of Postdocs at the University of California)
As we await the results of tonight’s pivotal midterm elections, where we learn which voters show up and how their choices shape policy measures of the next few years, we know that our immediate next steps as principal officers in our unions will involve fighting the bigoted attacks that target our members, who do so much to help move our universities forward as leading global institutions of research and teaching.
The State Department recently implemented a policy targeting Chinese graduate students studying in the fields of aviation, high-tech manufacturing and robotics in the United States. Under the new policy, these students must renew their visas every year, rather than every 5 years, amounting to both substantial burdens and insecurities. The Trump administration also announced new rules imposing higher scrutiny on Chinese scholars seeking work visas to perform research in the U.S., even though these individuals are already highly vetted.
Not only does this new policy go against our values as academics, but it also relatedly has direct implications for our global competitiveness. There are 350,000 Chinese students studying in the U. S., and they make significant contributions to academia and research, contributing $12 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2016–17 academic year alone. Further, how the U.S. supports our international community speaks volumes about our respect for other countries, and impacts foreign relations and our reputation as a global leader.
On the individual level, these new policies jeopardize the years of work these scholars have spent pursuing their technical graduate degrees. They impact their research departments, and the learning experience of the undergraduate students they teach. The arduous renewal requirements are hugely disruptive, and many may decide that the interruption is too risky to warrant continuing in their current program. Promising young scholars may decide to pursue graduate programs in other places like Canada and Europe instead.
This is not the first time we’ve seen or fought such policies. The Trump Administration’s Muslim Ban deployed similar bigoted assumptions against an entire group based not on their actions but their country of origin and their beliefs. The new policy on “Unlawful Presence” attempts to isolate and intimidate international scholars by imposing arbitrary new timeline standards. The Administration’s “re-definition” of transgender is a brazen attempt to strip people of their civil rights.
One way to organize against these outrageous policy proposals is to secure stronger protections and better working conditions through collective bargaining. In recent years we have successfully negotiated with our administrations at the University of Washington and University of California for changes that enable international workers to freely choose their employment with equal workplace rights and benefits, much stronger protections against discrimination and harassment, better wages, increased job security, longer appointment lengths, and recourse when visa paperwork is not processed in a timely fashion. We work together to identify and build upon improvements in different units and in different states.
But we know that advocacy through bargaining is not in itself sufficient. Our leadership and membership — comprised ⅔ to ⅕ by international workers — are pursuing all legislative, legal, and political pathways for change and partnering with elected champions at all levels of government to fight the targeting of international populations that make our universities so strong. We’ve fought to expand the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows international students to remain in the U.S. after graduation. We helped fight the first Muslim Ban by filing numerous amici, including at the Supreme Court. We mobilized to support Reps. Judy Chu (CA) and Pramila Jayapal (WA) who drafted a sign-on letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding the administration reverse these visa restrictions for Chinese Scholars. We are out registering voters and knocking on doors, doing our part to elect candidates who will represent our interests as academics, researchers and global citizens.
We must stop the bigoted attacks on Chinese scholars, DREAMers, Muslims, immigrants and asylum seekers, and the diversity which this country was founded on. As we learn who will comprise our new Congress, we are strengthened in our commitment to create a stronger, more equitable, more inclusive higher education system through forming and strengthening our unions.