When University of Texas at Austin senior Stephanie Flores-Reyes checked her fall course schedule earlier this week, she was shocked to see all five of her classes were slated to only be online. But as an international student from Mexico who spends the school year here on an F-1 student visa, it could suddenly be problematic for Flores-Reyes to be enrolled only in classes that meet online because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visa holders in the United States under the Student Exchange Visitor Program will not be allowed to enter or stay in the country if they are attending American schools that will offer only online classes this fall. Instead, they must either transfer to a school with in-person instruction or "potentially face immigration consequences," according to a release.
For students attending schools with hybrid plans, the category most Texas universities will fall under as they forge ahead with a mixture of in-person and online classes this fall, colleges must certify to ICE that the students are enrolled in the minimum number of classes required to progress through their degree plans at a normal speed—and that they are "not taking an entirely online course load" this fall.
Flores-Reyes chose her courses carefully in order to graduate on time next May. She doesn't want to budge from her schedule, which could potentially delay her degree progress, but having all online classes means she can't return to the U.S.
"It's insane that this is not even up to me," Flores-Reyes said. "I can't make those decisions. If I'd known, obviously I would have chosen in-person classes."
The new guidance drew heavy criticism from education groups.
"We urge the administration to rethink its position and offer international students and institutions the flexibility needed to put a new normal into effect and take into account the health and safety of our students in the upcoming academic year," the American Council on Education said in a statement.
The move also has some higher education experts worried about what will happen if more classes get pushed online, even if a school is designated to be hybrid.
"The online-only rule is a good one, if it allows international students to enroll, take classes and not have to come to campus," said Michael Olivas, the former director of the University of Houston's Institute for Higher Education Law. "But ... there's a tidal wave of online classes coming our way, to hybrid schools. And if the international students that are here have to return to their home country midway, that's going to be bad."
Olivas said the hope is that if universities transition to online-only classes midway through the semester, ICE will be flexible and implement special-circumstance rules similar to those that helped the same group of students when the pandemic swept the country earlier this year.
But Student Exchange Visitor Program documents indicate that may not be the case.
"If a school changes its operational stance mid-semester, and as a result a nonimmigrant student switches to only online classes, or a nonimmigrant student changes their course selections, and as a result, ends up taking an entirely online course load, schools are reminded that nonimmigrant students ... are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes," the new guidance reads. "If nonimmigrant students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps ... such as transfer to a school with in-person instruction."
ICE's decision could potentially alter fall plans for thousands of international students in the state. At UT-Austin alone, there are more than 5,000 international students, according to the school's international office. Spokesperson Fiona Mazurenko said in an email that staff members are working to respond to and support students with the limited information they have received, but declined to comment on how situations like Flores-Reyes' would be handled.
"We continue to advise all F-1 students to enroll in classes designated as in-person or web-enhanced," Mazurenko said in the email.
The University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Texas at El Paso also said they would work with each international student to make sure that their course schedule meets federal requirements for F-1 visas. Texas A&M University said it was monitoring the situation and would update students as more information became available.
But some faculty members are considering taking matters into their own hands. David Arditi, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, said he would do an independent study course for international students so that they could have the requisite in-person instruction required to stay in the country.
Arditi said he would not be compensated for the independent study course. He views this as a necessary way to protect international students – an "already vulnerable" group.
"In normal circumstances, I'm protective of my time," Arditi said. "But this is a horribly repressive system. ... We have to step up and find alternatives."
Flores-Reyes would prefer to return to Austin, where she rents an apartment still stuffed with her belongings. She hasn't been able to cross the border to retrieve anything since she fled in March to Nuevo Laredo.
Now she is looking to speak with her international adviser to plan her next steps, all while dealing with an unfamiliar set of constraints.
"I had no idea this was going to happen," Reyes-Flores said. "Now is not the time to be enforcing these rules."
Originally published by The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans—and engages with them—about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Expect some whiplash this week, Austinites: with an expected high of 103 degrees, Monday is predicted to be the hottest day of the year, but a midweek cold front is on the way to bring that first glimpse of fall.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport could see its first 100-degree temperature this year on Monday as temperatures citywide are expected to exceed this year's record of 102 degrees.
The cold front arrives Tuesday afternoon to evening.#atx #atxwx #cbsaustinwx https://t.co/rQni6ug3y4 pic.twitter.com/PoFeHPYtnM
— Chikage Windler WX (@ChikageWeather) September 20, 2021
After a typical summery Tuesday with highs in the mid-90s, Wednesday will welcome the first signs of fall as a cold front drops lows into the 50s.
Expect more wind and a chance of rain come Tuesday with a 40% chance of scattered storms. The cold front, which should last through Friday, will bring drier, crisper air that could cause fire hazards on Wednesday.
Highs will be in the upper 80s and lows in the 50s and lower 60s for the front's final two mornings.
After near record heat today, a cold front arrives tomorrow! Hang in there South-Central Texas, we have almost made it. pic.twitter.com/yd9UbNo7hY
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) September 20, 2021
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Around 75 dogs died in a fire Saturday night at Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown, according to the Georgetown Fire Department, leaving dozens of owners to mourn the losses of their furry companions.
The fire department arrived on the scene less than five minutes after 911 calls started flooding in at 10:56 p.m. At their arrival, they found flames and clouds of smoke, according to GFD Chief John Sullivan.
Twenty-five firefighters were on the scene, hoping to save as many lives as possible, initially trying to open some ventilation and control the smoke, though they were unable to save any dogs. Sullivan said his heart goes out to the families of the victims of the fire.
"I've been doing this for 29 years and this is the first incident that I've had where we've lost so many pets," Sullivan said. "I hate to use that term because, to me, a pet is a lot more than a pet—it is the closest friend. I wish I could convey my internal emotions adequately. I just wish I could go back in time to make it better."
Families of the fallen pets, who are believed to have died from smoke inhalation, have created a memorial outside the pet resort's fence complete with flowers, photos, notes and beloved toys of their friends.
No people were discovered at the scene—Ponderosa's boarding policies state that the staff feels that pets sleep better at night when no employees are there, so the pets are left unattended at night.
The fire department is still working to discover what caused the fire. Despite fire and smoke damage to the inside, the outer metal exterior survived the blaze. Based on the type of construction and occupancy type, the building was not required to have a sprinkler system.
"Quite frankly, I view my personal pet as probably my closest confidant, friend and the one that doesn't judge, so my heart just breaks," Sullivan said.
The fire claimed the lives of dog duo Bunny and Clyde, leaving owners and newlywed couple Don and Pam Richard devastated and angry KXAN reports, saying they wouldn't have left the dogs had they known they would be left unattended at night.
The Richard family is planning to petition the city of Georgetown, making it so that animals in professional care are never left unattended again.
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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."