17 US states, DC take to court in battle against student visa ban
Seventeen US states and the District of Columbia are suing the administration of President Donald Trump over the federal government’s recent rule stripping foreign students of their visas if the institution they are enrolled in only offers online teaching, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Led by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, the lawsuit came exactly one week after the US Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement released guidelines to invalidate foreign students’ F-1 and M-1 visas if the educational institution they are enrolled in switches to online-only courses, possibly depriving them of their legal status to stay in the United States.
“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,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in Boston, sought an injunction to stop the entire rule from going into effect, accusing the federal government of engaging in a “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.”
The lawsuit alleged that the administration’s “actions are arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion because they reverse previous guidance without explanation, input, or rationale,” adding that the new guidelines violated “‘the Administrative Procedure Act’ and fail to consider the need to protect public health and safety amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The lawsuit includes a request for immediate preliminary relief blocking the rule from going into effect while the case is litigated, and the attorneys general have requested a hearing as soon as possible,” the Massachusetts attorney general’s office said in a statement.
ICE’s controversial order said that international students who are only offered online courses in the upcoming semester “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”
Those who violate the rules “may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” ICE said. While the US government typically requires international students to take most classes in person, ICE offered flexibility in March, allowing the students to take online courses throughout the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit, also in the US District Court in Boston, on July 8 seeking a temporary restraining order.
“ICE’s action proceeded without any indication of having considered the health of students, faculty, university staff, or communities ... or the absence of other options for universities to provide their curricula to many of their international students,” the lawsuit by the two prestigious universities read.
Fifty-nine colleges in 24 states and Washington, DC, including Georgetown, Princeton, Stanford and Yale, filed a brief on Sunday backing Harvard and MIT.
“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 said.
“The July 6 Directive fails this basic requirement.”