Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s federal law enforcement agency, the immigration and Customs Enforcement passed a rule that can possibly revoke the visas of over a million students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs enrolled in colleges across the country. The new ICE ruling will not only raise difficulties for students but can also disrupt the months-long planning of nearly all universities.
The rule specifically affects people who are currently residing in the US with an F1 or M1 visa, which are two of the most common visas granted to foreign students. As soon as the ICE released the information regarding the ruling, there was a widespread backlash from the foreign student community as well as the universities’ administrations.
As a response, two of the leading universities of the country, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University have filed a lawsuit against the ICE last Wednesday in the federal court, arguing that not only does the ruling lead to increase in difficulties for international students but also compromises overall higher education in the US.
According to the ruling, international students with F1 or M1 visas will no longer be able to stay in the country if universities are unable to open in the next session due to the coronavirus pandemic. Both MIT and Harvard, along with many other US colleges had already planned on making the entire next semester online.
Therefore, in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the universities argued that the rule forces colleges to reopen and hold in-person classes amidst rising cases of the coronavirus infection.
The universities stated that the “judgment is neither safe nor educationally advisable to do so, and to force such a reopening when neither the students nor the universities have sufficient time to react to or address the additional risks to the health and safety of their communities.”
“The effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible,” the universities further added.
Although the president of the US, Donald Trump harshly criticized the lawsuit filed by MIT and Harvard and called them ‘unreasonable’, other universities are also following similar steps. For instance, the University of California announced that it will too be suing the new ICE ruling under the Trump administration.
Now, the District of Columbia, as well as seventeen other US states, are also suing the Trump Administration. The Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey called the new ICE ruling “senseless” and added that there is no reasonable argument behind the rule while announcing the suit.
Healey further added that the rule puts the universities in a very uncomfortable position. All universities will have to make the choice between providing a safe space on campus and in housing or keeping their foreign students in their respective degree programs. This also violates the Administrative Procedure Act, says Healey.
In response to the rising opposition, Kayleigh McEnany, who is the White House press secretary, says that the new ICE ruling is reasonable because visas are not issued to students taking ‘online classes’ from universities in the US.
The areas that fall under the District of Columbia and seventeen other states consist of over one thousand universities approximately have 373,000 foreign students enrolled in different degree programs in total. These foreign students reportedly contributed more than fourteen billion to the US economy in 2019.
Several other universities and higher education institutes have supported the lawsuits against ICE and Trump Administration including the University of Chicago, Tufts University, Yale University, and other universities in Minnesota, Illinois, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Maryland.