Rossy and Rose Artisan

Rossy (second from the left in the front row) with her then-boyfriend and current husband Ross (back row) and the women who make the handbags for Rose Artisan (far left, middle, second from the right and far right in the front row). (Courtesy/Sarah Hubbel).

It was in a tiny, sweltering room with dirt floors that I first encountered a sight perhaps more wondrous than the views of Lake Atitlan behind me — the intricate weavings of an indigenous woman in Panajachel, Guatemala. I watched transfixed as she rhythmically gathered threads from the loom while explaining the centuries-old process involved in creating these masterpieces, which often took months to complete.

A few years later, these same patterns reappeared before me, now carefully attached to a sturdy leather frame to form stunning handbags. These handbags that filled the room of a friend’s home were inventory being sold to a global consumer base through a small business founded by Rossy, an international student from Guatemala.

In 2018, Rossy founded Rose Artisan, an LLC that sells handbags, artfully crafted by skilled indigenous weavers from the small town of San Juan, Guatemala. The mission of Rose Artisan is to empower these indigenous women financially by providing a marketplace to which they would otherwise have little access due to a lack of economic resources. And this is how Rossy spends her free time. She also works full-time for a child welfare non-profit organization as a quality assurance manager, keeping her employers informed about current state and federal policies to ensure that vulnerable populations, like unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the U.S., are adequately and legally supported.

It has been only a decade since a teenage Rossy arrived in the United States as an international exchange student. Since her arrival, in addition to founding Rose Artisan and securing a full-time job, she has earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in political science under an F-1 Visa. Even in adolescence, Rossy saw the potential opportunities that could come with remaining in the U.S., not for herself, but for her humanitarian mission to support marginalized populations, namely immigrants and indigenous peoples.

Let’s imagine, now, that Rossy was in the throes of her undergraduate education when the recent policies of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) were sanctioned, barring international students from remaining in the country if their school transitions to full online learning. Would she have been able to continue her online education in her rural community of Guatemala, where the internet is unreliable? Would she have been able to afford a plane ticket back to the United States in the spring when classes resumed? Would she have had a successful business that supports the talents of indigenous women? Would she have reached her position, giving a voice to the voiceless?

As a social scientist, I understand that anecdotal evidence cannot substitute a substantive argument based on facts and statistics. But if anecdotes have convinced a population that ‘foreigners’ are synonymous with dangerous, lazy, job-stealing half-humans, surely these narratives have the power to demonstrate that these same ‘foreigners’ are industrious, innovative and hard-working humanitarians.

And if anecdotes do not paint a clear enough picture, the numbers are on my side. According to the Institute of International Education, in 2018 about 1.1 million international students in the higher education system contributed about $45 billion to the U.S. economy, supplying more than their share to post-secondary education. The pressure that SEVP’s policy places on the shoulders of international students is financially and emotionally crippling.

Sure, some will transfer to universities offering face-to-face instruction, and, yes, others will be able to safely return home to their family and friends and learn from afar, but this is not a luxury afforded to all. These are the international students that are currently having to choose to either risk their health by resuming their education in an institution that offers face-to-face instruction (without the guarantee that their transfer application will be accepted) or make the long trek home, uncertain about their ability to return. If you would like to help stop this policy, you should sign this petition. After all, if the government is willing to make education inaccessible to international students now, what will stop them from doing it again?

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