Harvard University and MIT officials have sued President Donald Trump’s administration over the newly announced federal policy that would send international students home if their American institutions move completely to online learning for the fall semester in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced that international students who are enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester will not receive visas or be allowed to re-enter the country -- only students who are enrolled in a hybrid or in-person program will receive visas.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday morning in Boston against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ICE, Chad Wolf as the acting Secretary of DHS, and Matthew Albence as the Acting Director of ICE.
The plaintiffs, who filed the suit on behalf of the nearly 5,000 Harvard and 4,000 MIT international students, are seeking a temporary injunction from the ICE policy claiming it is “arbitrary and capricious.” The policy “entirely fails to consider the significant effects that it will have on universities that have invested considerable time and effort in developing plans for the 2020-2021 academic year—plans that carefully balance the health and safety of faculty, students, and staff, with their core mission of educating students. The July 6 Directive likewise fails to consider the devastating effects that it will have on international students who will be forced to leave the United States or will be unable to enter to take classes, or those who will not be able to return to their home—or any—country,” the lawsuit said.
“By all appearances, ICE’s decision reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes, which would require housing students in densely packed residential halls, notwithstanding the universities’ judgment that it is neither safe nor educationally advisable to do so, and to force such a reopening when neither the students nor the universities have sufficient time to react to or address the additional risks to the health and safety of their communities. The effect—and perhaps even the goal—is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible,” the lawsuit added.
Harvard University had announced Monday that both undergraduate and graduate classes would be conducted online for the 2020-2021 academic year.
“The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” the Harvard Crimson reported that the university’s President Lawrence Bacow wrote in an email to affiliates. “We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal.”
Bacow added, “We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students—and international students at institutions across the country—can continue their studies without the threat of deportation.”
The policy has dire implications for many of the country’s 1.08 million international students here on student visas, including an estimated 27,000 students in New York City.
Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli said in a CNN appearance Tuesday that the policy is to encourage U.S. schools to reopen campuses.
"This is now setting the rules for one semester, which we'll finalize later this month, that will, again, encourage schools to reopen," Cuccinelli said on CNN. He added of the international students, “If they’re not going to be a student or they’re going to be 100 percent online, then they don’t have a basis to be here.”
“They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens,” he added.