Harvard and MIT Sue Trump Administration over Plan Mandating In-person Classes for Foreign Students

Harvard and MIT Sue Trump Administration over Plan Mandating In-person Classes for Foreign Students
Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have sued the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over new guidelines barring foreign students from remaining in the United States if their universities switched to online-only classes in the autumn.

The universities’ lawsuit was in response to an announcement on Monday by immigration authorities that the affected students must leave the country or transfer to a school offering in-person tuition. Under the new guidelines, international students will be forced to leave the US or transfer to another college if their schools offer classes entirely online this autumn.

There were more than one million international students in the US for the 2018-19 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).

“We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students, and international students at institutions across the country, can continue their studies without the threat of deportation,” Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said in a statement.
President Donald Trump is pushing universities and schools to fully open when the new academic year starts in September despite the US registering record COVID-19 cases.

ICE said in its announcement the State Department would not issue visas to students enrolled in programmes that are fully online for the fall semester and such students would not be allowed to enter the country. Universities with a hybrid system of in-person and online classes will have to show that foreign students are taking as many in-person classes as possible, to maintain their status.


In the case filed in a federal court in Massachusetts capital of Boston, the universities have asked for injunctive relief to prevent ICE and DHS from enforcing the new guidance and to declare it unlawful.

“ICE’s action leaves hundreds of thousands of international students with no educational options within the United States. Just weeks from the start of the fall semester, these students are largely unable to transfer to universities providing on-campus instruction, notwithstanding ICE’s suggestion that they might do so to avoid removal from the country,” read the complaint.

It added that for many students, returning to their home countries to participate in online instruction is “impossible, impracticable, prohibitively expensive, and/or dangerous”.

The two universities have said that the guidelines leave institutions across the country in the untenable situation of either moving forward with their carefully calibrated, thoughtful, and difficult decisions to proceed with their curricula online in the fall of 2020 or provide in-person education despite the grave risk to public health and safety that such a change would entail.

Before the new guidelines were announced, Harvard had said all classes in the upcoming academic year 2020-21 will be held online.

“The announcement “disrupts our international students’ lives and jeopardizes their academic and research pursuits. ICE is unable to offer the most basic answers about how its policy will be interpreted or implemented. And the guidance comes after many US colleges and universities either released or are readying their final decisions for the fall,” MIT President L Rafael Reif said in a letter to the MIT community.

The plaintiffs have asked the court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief preventing ICE and DHS from enforcing the policy announced in the July 6 Directive and declaring it unlawful.

‘Cruelty surpassed by recklessness’

The measure was seen as a move by the White House to put pressure on educational institutions that are adopting a cautious approach to reopening amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“The order came down without notice — its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Bacow said, adding it was made “without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors and others”.

Trump has also threatened to withhold federal money if schools don’t reopen in the fall, lashing out at federal health officials over school reopening guidelines that he says are impractical and expensive.

The US posted a daily high of 60,209 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, said Johns Hopkins University, and the country topped three million cases on Wednesday. The disease has claimed more than 1,31,000 lives across America.

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