Universities Sue over ICE Online Learning Update

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Posted: Jul 09, 2020 4:30 PM
Universities Sue over ICE Online Learning Update

Source: (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an effort to repeal the restriction on nonimmigrant students from attending colleges that have transitioned to all virtual classes in the upcoming school year.

Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow said the order’s “cruelty” is “surpassed only by its recklessness.”

Harvard and MIT are two of many elite schools to announce a shift toward primarily online learning.

President Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, have thundered their support of reopening schools in the fall. 

“The effect—and perhaps even the goal—is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible,” Harvard University said in a press release. “We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal.”

The universities argue that ICE’s mandate violates the Administrative Procedures Act by misleading students about their residential status and altering guidelines without warning or opportunity to comment. As international students for Harvard and other universities prepared for classes following ICE’s March 13 guidance on Coronavirus, including extracting loans and committing to housing contracts, they learned they could lose their current visas. 

“It appears that it [the order] was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others,” said Bacow.

Reopening would jeopardize the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff, the universities say, but the societal value of international students must be affirmed. 

“Our international students now have many questions – about their visas, their health, their families and their ability to continue working toward an MIT degree,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement. “Unspoken, but unmistakable, is one more question: Am I welcome?”

A New York Times article noted that international students also contribute necessary revenue to the universities. 

According to Harvard’s website, 5,007 international students are enrolled, out of 36,012 total. MIT reported 3,976 international students in the 2019/2020 school year, comprising roughly 35 percent of the student body. At both schools, Chinese students factor more than any other nationality toward the rapid growth of international student demographics.

While some studies have demonstrated that online educational formats can save college up to 50 percent on overhead expenses, the literature is inconclusive as to whether exclusively virtual offerings actually reduce costs in the long term.

Massachusetts Attorney General Healy, who represents Harvard and MIT, said in an interview with NPR that “the Trump administration is engaged in a full-on anti-immigrant effort,” intending for the ICE order – which only affects those holding nonpermanent visas – “to punish our immigrant students and - excuse me - our foreign students and also to punish colleges and universities.”

She anticipates more universities will soon join the lawsuit. “This is an attempt to improperly coerce these colleges and universities into doing something that … really hurts their economic bottom line here and attempt to punish them.”

The baseline mandate, in place before the onset of the coronavirus, required that students attend no more than one of their classes online. 

An online petition to repeal ICE’s restriction on international students is gaining traction, logging over 100,000 signatures at the time of writing.