Nearly 60 universities file brief backing challenge to ICE rule on foreign students

Nearly 60 public and private universities are supporting a lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration from stripping foreign students of visas at colleges that opt against in-person classes this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Harvard University and MIT filed the lawsuit last week in federal court in Boston after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students would need to leave the U.S. if their schools moved classes exclusively online. The universities are asking for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against the policy.  

Fifty-nine colleges filed an amicus brief in court on Sunday backing Harvard and MIT's legal action. The schools - based in 24 states and Washington, D.C. - have a combined 213,00 international students enrolled, according to the brief. The schools include Georgetown, Stanford, Arizona State University and Yale.

"A fundamental principle of administrative law is that the government must provide a reasoned explanation for its actions and consider all important aspects of a problem before imposing burdens on regulated parties," the brief sates. "The July 6 Directive fails this basic requirement."

The universities also argued that college leaders relied on federal guidance allowing international students to remain in the country while taking online classes in preparation for the fall term. In March, ICE officials said that international students would be granted an exemption from attending in-person classes throughout the duration of the public health emergency. 

"The emergency persists, yet the government's policy has suddenly and drastically changed, throwing [schools'] preparations into disarray and causing significant harm and turmoil," the universities said. 

ICE's announcement earlier this month on student visas came as the Trump administration ramped up its push to reopen schools this fall. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have been vocal about the need for schools to offer in-person classes, producing concerns from some about whether teachers have the equipment necessary to do it in a safe fashion. 

In their lawsuit, Harvard and MIT alleged that ICE's decision was designed to "force universities to reopen in-person classes." The legal action came just two days after Harvard announced that it would offer all of its classes online for the next school year. 

The university has said that it will allow "those who must be on campus to progress academically" to return in the fall.