Washington, Jul 8 (efe-epa).- Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Wednesday they are suing the United States government in federal court over a new policy that would require foreign students at institutions offering exclusively online classes to either leave the country or transfer to another school that offers face-to-face instruction.
Under the new rules, unveiled Tuesday by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the State Department will not grant visas to foreign students enrolled at institutions or programs that will only be offering distance learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Q&A published on ICE’s website, it said that “all students scheduled to study at a US institution in the fall will be able to do so, though some will be required to study from abroad if their presence is not required for any in-person classes in the United States.”
It said the guidance was aimed in part at minimizing the risk of transmission of Covid-19 by not allowing the entrance of students who do not need to be on campus.
Approximately 1.1 million foreign students are currently studying in the US on F-1 and M-1 visas, according to the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE. These students typically pay higher tuition rates than students born in the US.
According to the Association of International Educators, foreign students contribute $41 billion to the US economy annually and support more than 450,000 American jobs.
“We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal,” Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow wrote in an e-mail to affiliates after that institution and MIT, both located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, filed the lawsuit in US District Court in Boston.
“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,” he added.
For his part, George Mason University President Gregory Washington said in a letter Tuesday to the university community that the measure “could force hundreds of thousands of international students to leave the United States and threatens to interrupt the academic work of more than 3,000 students” at that Virginia-based public research institution.
“Despite unprecedented challenges we currently face, we will not waver in our support for our international community,” he wrote, adding that universities will be joining together to explore ways to “protect this vulnerable population.”
The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of the guidelines, which MIT and Harvard say are “arbitrary and capricious.”
That echoed language used by the US Supreme Court last month when it rejected the procedure used by US President Donald Trump’s administration to rescind a 2012 policy (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) that shielded from deportation hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants who had arrived in the country as children.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, for her part, tweeted on Tuesday that the new immigration guidelines are “another cruel (& illegal) attempt by the Trump Admin & ICE to stir up uncertainty & punish immigrants.”
“Our state is home to thousands of international students who shouldn’t fear deportation or health risks in order to get an education. We will sue,” she wrote.
University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan also slammed the policy change.
“The guidance released Monday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) creates immense confusion and instability for thousands of international students at the University of Massachusetts, not to mention the million-plus international students across the country,” he said.
Beth Kontos, the president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, went further and said the new rules are racially motivated.
“Let’s call this decision what it is: a racist president doubling down on his failed strategy of denying the realities of the Covid-19 health crisis, and renewing his campaign of hate against immigrants,” she said. EFE-EPA