Amid rising unrest and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration issued a directive last week that would endanger the visas of international students whose colleges or universities plan on implementing remote coursework this fall. This directive has forced international students as well as higher education institutions to reconsider their fall plans.
This comes as President Trump and his administration have begun to threaten schools that are unwilling or unable to reopen in the fall. As of Monday, 17 states and the District of Columbia have taken legal action against the administration.
According to the Trump administrations’ directive, students on F-1 or M-1 visas enrolled in colleges or universities that opt to conduct courses online in the fall semester must leave the United States, transfer schools, or risk deportation and other consequences. This directive would rescind an ICE exemption issued in March that allowed international students to remain in the United States while engaged in remote learning.
Last week, in response to this directive, California filed a suit against the federal government, and Harvard University and MIT filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Boston. On Monday, legal action was jointly filed by 17 states and the District of Columbia in an effort to block the administration’s directive. Now, more than 200 schools have also declared their support for such legal action.
Filed in Massachusetts’ U.S. District Court, the lawsuit refers to the White House directive as being a “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action.” After discussing the advancements to public health and science enhanced by the vibrant community of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, the lawsuit calls attention to the various risks that in-person learning will inevitably pose to students, families, and faculty. It also acknowledges the fact that the directive was issued after many higher education institutions already made plans for the fall, forcing international students to risk deportation or their health.
The lawsuit cites the fact that the states responsible for this lawsuit housed more than 373,300 international students last year, as well as the fact that these students contributed over $14 billion to the economy. It also acknowledges that because states are responsible for funding and supporting public higher education institutions, reevaluating plans for the fall semester to act in accordance with this directive would be costly and harmful to operations statewide.
Attorneys general involved in this recent legal action have issued statements responding to the administration’s unprecedented directive. Maura Healey, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, noted that the administration gave no explanation for what she called a “senseless rule,” and Gurbir Grewal, the Attorney General of New Jersey, suggested that the administration was attempting to use international students’ “tuition as leverage” to reopen institutions.
Sources: The New York Times 7/7/2020; Feminist Majority Foundation 7/9/2020; CNBC 7/13/2020; United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts 7/13/2020; NBC News 7/13/2020, 7/8/2020; Politico 7/13/2020