Universities sue Trump admin over dangerous ICE policy targeting international students

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Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued the Trump administration over a dangerous policy announced this week saying international students who are taking their classes online in the fall due to the novel coronavirus pandemic will not be allowed to stay in the U.S. Under the policy, international students will be forced to transfer if their schools are operating online only and attend classes in-person amid a pandemic, or leave.

Less than two days after the announcement, the two schools have now filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Harvard president Lawrence Bacow said according to The Harvard Crimson. “We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal.”

The Associated Press reports the lawsuit argues that the administration (yet again) violated the Administrative Procedures Act, “because officials failed to offer a reasonable basis justifying the policy and because the public was not given notice to comment on it.” The Supreme Court notably ruled last month that the administration violated this law when it ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017. (Nearly three weeks after this ruling, officials have yet to fully reopen the program to new applicants.)

Vox reporter Nicole Narea tweeted that “[s]ome attorneys have expressed worry that the Harvard lawsuit could fail—ICE had a longstanding policy of barring foreign students from pursuing online-only curriculums pre-pandemic, so it’s harder to argue that this decision was ‘arbitrary and capricious.’” But she also noted that anti-immigrant loudmouth and unlawfully appointed Trump administration official Ken Cuccinelli went onto cable news to blab “the new rules would ‘encourage schools to reopen,’ which would seem to tie this policy change to a political goal.”

Attorneys didn’t miss Ken’s confession, either: Wall Street Journal reporter Michelle Hackman tweeted that Ken’s “words are cited in the universities’ lawsuit.” Thanks, Ken.

As Aysha Qamar wrote earlier this week, international students subject to the policy could face myriad obstacles in trying to continue their studies back in their home countries, “including time differences, lack of access to course materials, and reliable internet service.” She noted “the new rule fails to acknowledge restrictions on travel in place due to the coronavirus,” with many “unable to return home as travel restrictions worldwide continue.”

Immigrant students, regardless of their legal status, must be protected as the administration is only ramping up racist attacks heading into November’s election. Recently, Education Department Sec. Betsy DeVos made a deliberate decision to bar undocumented students from emergency pandemic relief, lying that she was just following the law. But as Sanaa Abrar of United We Dream told Inside Higher Ed, the legislation, “as it was written, would have provided aid to all students, regardless of immigration status.”

“As a university with a profound commitment to residential education, we hope and intend to resume full in-person instruction as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so,” Bacow continued according to The Harvard Crimson. “But, until that time comes, we will not stand by to see our international students’ dreams extinguished by a deeply misguided order. We owe it to them to stand up and to fight—and we will.”

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