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US: More suits against “cruel” ICE guidelines filed

Following in the footsteps of Harvard and MIT, institutions across the US have revealed plans to challenge new guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would prevent international students in the country from attending colleges and universities offering online-only courses.

The ICE directive comes at a time when the federal government is putting pressure on universities and K-12 schools to open in the fall. Photo: Unsplash

Almost 25,000 members of faculty at institutions across the US have signed an open letter against the directive

The ICE directive comes at a time when the federal government is putting pressure on universities and K-12 schools to open in the fall despite a sharp rise in new coronavirus infections. The US has seen more than 300,000 new cases since July 1.

In response the guidelines, Princeton has announced it is exploring legal options that might solve the problems created by ICE’s guidelines, with university president Christopher L. Eisgruber describing the policymaking as “cruel, opaque, and arbitrary”.

“The manner in which ICE announced its actions has been wholly irresponsible”

“Not only is this policy misguided and unnecessary, the manner in which ICE announced its actions has been wholly irresponsible, adding to the anxiety of students and families already grappling with the realities of a global pandemic,” Eisgruber wrote in a statement.

“We are filing an amicus brief in the lawsuit that Harvard and MIT brought against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE…[and] we are also exploring other legal and policy options, as well as other university actions that might solve the problems created by ICE’s announcement.”

Another Ivy League school, Brown, has also joined the call for supporting international students in the US, with president Christina H. Paxson describing the temporary rule as “nothing short of cruel”.

“It comes at a time when every student, regardless of their country of origin, should benefit from the maximum level of flexibility to pursue their studies in a manner that they or their institutions decide has the highest capacity to support their health and safety,” she wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

Paxson explained that Brown is planning for a 2020-21 academic year that integrates both on-campus and remote instruction, should health and safety conditions allow.

Under that approach, international students at Brown will be able to register for at least one in-person class, making it possible for them to remain in the country.

Paxson said that would not be the case, however, in the event of a major resurgence of the virus in New England that forces the university to shift to fully online instruction.

“In the coming weeks, assuming that the DHS rule remains in effect, we will work with faculty to develop plans to minimise the chance that any of our international students — undergraduate, graduate or medical — are forced to leave the country,” Paxon added.

She noted also that Brown is working with its peer institutions to identify additional ways to oppose the DHS policy.

The University of California also announced new plans to file suit against the federal government for “violating the rights of the university”, and will seek a temporary restraining order to bar ICE from enforcing an order that UC president, Janet Napolitano, called “mean-spirited, arbitrary and damaging to America”.

“UC’s suit will argue, among other things, that ICE failed to follow the Administrative Procedure Act and failed to consider both the university’s and students’ reliance interests when it barred international students from attending universities that only offer online courses during the ongoing health crisis,” Napolitano explained in a letter.

The suit will mark the second UC has filed against DHS for its disregard for the rules governing agency – the first suit was in 2017 over the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Napolitano created when she served as DHS secretary for former US president, Barack Obama.

In Boston, Northeastern University said it would be also be supporting Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit against the guidelines that have created “chaos for international students”.

While we believe the hybrid-flexible model we have developed at Northeastern will insulate our international students from the pernicious effects of the new rule, we steadfastly oppose this divisive approach,” wrote Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern.

He said the new rules add to the dilemma facing international students as they decide whether to return to their schools at a time when the US is still struggling to control the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Prior to the new guidance being issued, there was no in-person requirement, because the guidance from spring and summer made it clear that as long as you’re maintaining full-time status you can be online and remote due to the current emergency situation,” added Jigisha Patel,  associate general counsel and chief advisor for international and immigration services at Northeastern.

“We call on ICE to rescind its decision, and on our university leaders to join us”

“This sudden change is causing unnecessary confusion and high anxiety for many students.”

At the time of publication, almost 25,000 members of faculty at institutions across the US have signed an open letter against the student ban, describing the policy as “discriminatory” and “economically dangerous”.

“We call on ICE to rescind its decision, and on our university leaders to join us in prioritising this issue, advocating for our students, and coming up with a quick response that minimises the impact on international students so they do not have to make the impossible choice to return to their home countries in the context of a global pandemic,” the letter concluded.

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