Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), along with the state of California, have filed a lawsuit over the temporary rule change and immigration advocates and higher education insiders are confident emergency court relief is coming soon since the school year is fast approaching.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey led a coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia in suing the Trump administration on Monday in a bid to block a new policy that would force foreign students to return home if their upcoming courses are entirely online.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), challenges what they call the federal government’s “cruel, abrupt and unlawful action to expel international students amid the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.”


The lawsuit, according to Healey’s office, seeks an injunction to stop the entire rule from going into effect.

“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,” Healey said in a statement. “Massachusetts is home to thousands of international students who make invaluable contributions to our educational institutions, communities and economy. We are taking this action today to make sure they can continue to live and learn in this country.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey speaks in Worcester, Mass., June 1, 2018.
(Associated Press)

Healey and attorneys general from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, said the new rule fails to consider the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.

The lawsuit also says the administration fails to consider the tremendous costs and administrative burden it would impose on schools and that remote learning may not be possible for international students in their home countries.

They also argued that the policy imposes financial harm to colleges and universities, and pressures them to offer in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic “or lose significant numbers of international students who will either have to leave the country, transfer or disenroll from the school.”

The lawsuit also alleges the new rule imposes significant economic harm by precluding thousands of international students from coming to and residing in the United States and finding employment in fields such as science, technology, biotechnology, health care, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy.

The suit comes after ICE announced last week that those on F-1 and M-1 student visas would need to leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools offer classes entirely online when they reopen in the fall. If they do not, they could face deportation proceedings.


Additionally, the agency announced that the State Department will not issue visas to students enrolled in full online programs, and that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would not allow them into the country.

Meanwhile, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sued DHS this week over the policy. The lawsuit stated that “for many students, returning to their home countries to participate in online instruction is impossible, impracticable, prohibitively expensive and/or dangerous.”

The lawsuit by Harvard and MIT seeks a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction stopping the policy from being enforced. According to The Harvard Crimson, which first reported the lawsuit, the guidelines were released shortly after Harvard announced it would house no more than 40 percent of undergraduates and would hold all classes online in the fall.

More than 200 universities are backing Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit against the administration.

A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on Tuesday.

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