Court Battles

17 states sue Trump administration over foreign students rule

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia on Monday sued to block the Trump administration from stripping foreign students of visas if their colleges move exclusively to online classes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit comes after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced last week that international students whose courses move entirely online would be required to leave the country, rescinding a previous plan to grant exemptions to student visa holders.

“The Trump Administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office is leading the coalition of states suing the federal government.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston, alleges several violations of a federal law known as the Administrative Procedure Act, which concerns how certain decisionmaking power resides with federal agencies. At issue is whether ICE’s new policy is legally justified or if it was “arbitrary and capricious,” and thus illegal under the act.

The challenge comes after a similar lawsuit was brought last week by Harvard and MIT, as well as litigation filed by other higher education institutions.

“The effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible,” the Harvard-MIT lawsuit filed last week alleged.

California also filed a lawsuit last week against the Trump administration’s move.

In addition to Massachusetts and D.C., Monday’s filing was brought by Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The challengers have requested a preliminary and permanent injunction against the administration’s new policy.

The defendant in the case is the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE. The agencies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In March, ICE announced that international students in the U.S. would be given an exemption from the requirement that they attend in-person classes for the duration of the public health crisis. The agency reversed itself with no warning last Monday.

“The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States,” ICE said last week. “Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

The sudden reversal escalated President Trump’s crackdown on immigration and his pressure on schools to fully reopen in the fall, despite the worsening health crisis throughout the country.

The announcement threw more than a million international students with U.S. visas into uncertainty with the beginning of the school year just weeks away. 

If the new rule change is allowed to go into effect, every student visa holder in the country attending a school that’s entirely online will either have to leave the U.S. or transfer to an institution holding in-person classes.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump foreign students Lawsuit Pandemic student visas

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