Harvard, MIT Sue U.S. for Seeking to Deport Foreign Students Enrolled Only in Online Classes

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over a new visa policy that will deport foreign students who are enrolled only in online classes for the upcoming fall semester.

Harvard, which has 5,000 international students, plans to teach entirely online for the next school year, while MIT, which has 4,000 international students, plans to teach most classes in the same format.

The lawsuit: The institutions believe that the policy was designed to force universities to conduct in-person classes, which follows the Trump administration’s political strategy to pressure schools to fully reopen amid the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Harvard and MIT filed the suit in a Massachusetts district court on Wednesday, just two days after the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) — under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — announced modifications in current temporary exceptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to COVID-19.
  • The new policy affects nonimmigrant F-1 students, who pursue academic coursework, and nonimmigrant M-1 students, who pursue vocational coursework. 
  • The suit seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent the government from enforcing the policy, which allegedly violates the Administrative Procedure Act — the law governing rulemaking by federal agencies.
  • Harvard and MIT claim that the policy is “arbitrary” and “capricious” because it fails to consider, for one, 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.”
  • According to the suit, the policy also reflects “virtually no reasoned decision-making,” as it fails to justify why the ICE perceives a “need to resume the carefully balanced protections implemented by federal regulations.”

Supporters of the suit: The lawsuit has found support in multiple entities, which are now mobilizing to help prevent the policy’s enforcement.

  • Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, vowed to support the suit, slamming the policy as “cruel” and “illegal.”
  • “Massachusetts is home to thousands of international students who should not fear deportation or be forced to put their health and safety at risk in order to advance their education,” Healey said in a statement. “This decision from ICE is cruel, it’s illegal, and we will sue to stop it.”
  • Princeton University, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania — among others — are all filing amicus briefs in support of the suit.

  • The American Council on Education, a nonprofit coordinating the nation’s higher education institutions, also plans to file a brief in support of the suit.
  • Some 25 higher education associations are expected to join the brief, including the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of American Universities, and the Association of Land Grant Universities.

Feature Images via Pixabay

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