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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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Police have arrested one of two suspects involved in a mass shooting at Austin's Sixth Street in the early morning hours on Saturday, leaving 14 people injured and two in critical condition.
The arrest was made by the Austin Police Department and the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force. One suspect is still at large.
Police started receiving 911 phone calls at 1:24 a.m about a man that fired shots into a large crowd, and responded to a chaotic scene on the 400 block of East Sixth Street. Detectives are surveying video footage captured by bystanders and cameras on the scene to identify the suspect.
The Austin Police Department has narrowed down their search to two male suspects and believes there was "some type of disturbance" between the two parties.
No deaths have been reported. Fourteen victims are receiving treatment in a hospital in stable condition with one treated in an emergency room; two are in critical condition.
According to Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon, "almost all" of the victims are innocent bystanders but police have not ruled anyone out at this time.
Shooting on 6th Street Austin Texas 6-12-2021 (Aftermath) youtu.be
The shooting occurred on the weekend of the Republic of Texas Motorcycle Rally. With lots of people downtown, police say it was difficult to get EMS in and out of the scene. Police arrived while the scene was still an "active threat," officers "immediately began lifesaving measures" and drove six victims to the hospital in their squad cars, said Chacon, and four were transported in ambulances.
Chacon said that the incident is believed to be isolated, and they optimistic they will be successful in getting the two suspects into custody. Multiple departments, including APD, the FBI, Texas DPS and the ATF, are involved in the investigation.
Austin police are also requesting state troopers for patrol assistance in the coming days. Chacon stressed staffing issues are increasingly making responding to emergency calls "very hard."
"Overall, we remain a safe city," Chacon said. "Also keep in mind when you come downtown, you need to be safety conscious. Be vigilant of your environment and your surroundings."
Today marks the five-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in which 49 were killed and 53 wounded in Orlando, Florida. Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call 911 or 512-472-TIPS.
This story was updated at 2:47 p.m. to include new information and will be updated as more details are revealed.
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Austin police are investigating a homicide in North Austin where a woman was shot and killed, just hours after a mass shooting in Downtown Austin hospitalized 14 people.
APD is working a suspicious death near the 1900 block of W Rundberg Ln. PIO is en route and will update with media staging location. PIO6
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) June 12, 2021
Police originally responded to Ironhorse Flats Apartments, 1900 block of W. Rundberg Lane, at 3:20 p.m. when they found the woman with multiple gunshot wounds. She was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 4:07 p.m.
No one is in custody as of yet but police are speaking with potential witnesses. Officials said they believe this was an isolated incident with no danger to the public but said possible relation to the downtown shooting has not been specifically ruled out.
Officers could not provide a suspect description and the relationship to the victim is still unknown.
This is a developing story that will be updated as details become available.
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