Harvard, MIT Sue Trump Admin Over Rule Barring Online-Only Foreign Students From Staying in US

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
July 8, 2020Updated: July 8, 2020

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sued the Trump administration in a federal court on Wednesday in an effort to block the enforcement of a new rule that prevents international students from staying in the United States if their school only offers online courses this upcoming fall.

The institutions are seeking a temporary restraining order to block the rule (pdf), which was announced by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on July 6. The rule requires international students to leave the country or transfer to another institution if their schools offer classes entirely online in fall 2020. If not, the students may risk consequences such as deportation.

The new rule quickly garnered widespread criticism by academic institutions who are already struggling to navigate the logistical challenges of safely resuming classes as some states across the country see an increase of cases of the CCP virus.

“The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Harvard President Larry Bacow said in a statement Wednesday. “It appears that it 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.”

“This comes at a time when the United States has been setting daily records for the number of new infections, with more than 300,000 new cases reported since July 1,” he added.

Bacow said that if an academic institution decides to offer in-person or hybrid instruction this fall and a spike in CCP virus cases occurs, the schools would face “strong pressure” to not switch to online instruction in order to protect international students studying in their schools.

Similarly, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement to students and faculty members that the rule “disrupts our international students’ lives and jeopardizes their academic and research pursuits.”

“ICE is unable to offer the most basic answers about how its policy will be interpreted or implemented. And the guidance comes after many US colleges and universities either released or are readying their final decisions for the fall—decisions designed to advance their educational mission and protect the health and safety of their communities,” Reif said in a statement.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request to comment on the lawsuit.

President Donald Trump has been pushing for schools to reopen in fall 2020, which is tied to his effort to help the country resume normal economic functions. During a roundtable discussion with health experts, educators, students, and parents on Tuesday, Trump said he will pressure governers to reopen, saying that he believes that the governers who didn’t were doing it for political reasons.

“We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons, they think it’s gonna be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed, no way,” Trump said. “We’re very much going to put pressure on the governors and everybody else to open the schools.”

Trump, during the discussion, was highly critical of Harvard’s decision to only partially reopen in the fall and have all course instruction for the 2020-2021 academic year be delivered online.

“I see where Harvard announced that they’re closing for the season or for the year. I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s an easy way out. And I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, you want to know the truth,” the president said.

Under ICE’s announcement, students who are attending schools that offer both a mixture of online and in-person classes are allowed to take more than one class online as long as the schools certify that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking the course entirely online that semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make progress in their degree program.

A States Department spokesperson said that this temporary accommodation for students getting instruction under the hybrid model “provides greater flexibility for nonimmigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses across America.”