On Monday morning, Mrittika Sarin, 29, woke up and checked the news like she has every day this summer to “see how this country is going to get rid of me.”
“I’m exhausted and traumatized,” said Sarin, an international student from New Delhi who is getting a master’s degree in screenwriting at the University of California in Los Angeles.
When she read about the Trump administration’s move to only allow international students to stay in the United States if they are taking classes in person, she felt that the other shoe had finally dropped.
She spent the rest of the day in bed.
Sumana Kaluvai, 22, who graduated from UCLA last year, also heard the news on Monday. She realized thousands of international students at UCLA and throughout the country had just had their lives upended: They were all facing potential deportation.
Kaluvai now works at a biotech company, but still maintains a Facebook group for international students to help navigate school and visa logistics. Caught in green card limbo for years, she attended her final year at UCLA on a student visa despite having spent most of her life in America. Her inbox blew up with questions from students and parents about what to do in the fall.
She had no answers.
After several hours, she thought about her experience at UCLA and what she and her friends would do if they absolutely needed to take a class within a certain quarter or as a graduation requirement.
“We would ask around to see if any of our friends had a spot that they didn’t need. … It used to be dire circumstances. And this is the worst version of that, so I decided, why don’t we do the same thing?” Kaluvai said.
She made a Google doc to connect international students to American students to see if they could swap classes — an online class for an in-person lab class or workshop.
“Just as a temporary fix. This is not the end solution,” Kaluvai said.
She started the document at 9 p.m. on Monday. When she woke up on Tuesday, it had “blown up,” and 24 hours later, it had over one million views.
Within a couple of days, she teamed up with other groups like Community Equity and San Jose Strong, who helped her spread the word.
Soon the lists got swamped with traffic, including nasty comments and harassment by trolls. The group leaders locked the documents and are instead building out a website to connect people.
UCLA is moving to a hybrid model for the fall — holding 15 percent of class in-person and remainder of classes online classes. Yuliana Barrón Perez, 22, a rising senior at UCLA and Community Equity leader, said that on her campus alone, about 40 students had volunteered to give up their in-person classes and about 80 international students signed up needing to swap an online class.
In addition, they’ve heard from about 20 other schools who have asked to participate in the class swap.
UCLA is part of the University of California system, which has more than 27,000 undergraduate international students and nearly 14,000 international graduate students. Like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the UC system is suing the Trump administration over new guidelines for international students.
Both Barrón Perez and Kaluvai are quick to point out that there’s an entire infrastructure of students that sprang up to organize these efforts.
“We just want to connect students with each other so they’re able to work around this system. Not every university right now has taken action,” Barrón Perez said. “We’re just trying to fill in the gaps for those students whose universities haven’t released plans for the steps that they’re taking yet.”
Barrón Perez said the website, Save Our International Students, will also have petitions, information, resources and email templates for students to reach out to their local representatives.