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More Colleges, States Back Legal Action over Foreign Student Rule

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More colleges and state officials are taking legal action against the Trump administration's new restrictions on international students. They say the new policy harms students' safety and forces schools to reconsider their plans for the fall.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C. joined Massachusetts in a legal action brought last week in federal court in Boston against the rule.

Lawsuits were also brought by Johns Hopkins University and the state of California. The University of California system has said it also plans to take legal action.

The efforts support Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the legal case against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). More than 200 universities have signed legal briefs supporting the case against ICE.

Under the new ICE rule, international students must take at least some of their college classes in person, transfer to U.S-based schools with in-person classes or leave the country. They will have to leave the U.S. even if a health emergency forces their classes online later in the school year. And the government will reject visa requests from international students at colleges or universities that only offer classes online.

A judge is set to begin hearing arguments in the case Tuesday. If the judge does not suspend the rule, colleges across the U.S. will have until Wednesday to notify ICE if they plan to be fully online this fall.

In this file photo a general view of Harvard University campus is seen on April 22, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In this file photo a general view of Harvard University campus is seen on April 22, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

What does ICE say?

The Department of Homeland Security and ICE say the policy is backed by existing law. The law bans foreign students from taking all of their classes online while in the U.S.

In a court brief filed on Monday, the agencies said ICE suspended the rule in March because of the coronavirus crisis. But it told universities that the temporary rule was subject to change.

ICE says the rule is "a measured transition to begin a move toward reopening schools and allowing students to return to classrooms."

A group of 59 universities submitted their own legal brief in the case. They say the new rule forces schools across the nation to "choose between opening their campuses regardless of the public health risks, or forcing their international students to leave the country."

The group includes other Ivy League universities and schools like Stanford and Duke. Those schools have more than 213,000 international students.

"These students are core members of our institutions," the schools wrote. "They make valuable contributions to our classrooms, campuses and communities — contributions that have helped make American higher education the envy of the world."

The colleges are asking the court to block the rule as quickly as possible. They say it has been used to turn students away. A DePaul University student was prevented from entering the U.S. after arriving in San Francisco last week. And Harvard previously said one of its students from Belarus was turned away from a flight at an airport in the capital Minsk.

A different group of 180 colleges told the federal court in Boston that they were "blindsided" by the policy.

The group, known as the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, said the March 13 guidance from ICE had permitted online education for foreign students "for the duration of the emergency." They point to information suggesting the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. is higher now than it was in March.

"All seem to agree the emergency remains ongoing, but ICE's policy has inexplicably changed," the group wrote.

The alliance also says colleges and communities risk losing millions of dollars over the new visa policy. Northern Virginia Community College, for example, estimates it could lose nearly $10 million in tuition from foreign students. And New York City says international students bring in more than $3 billion per year.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

The Associated Press reported this story. Hai Do adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.

Words in This Story

transfer – v. to move from one school to another

transition – n. the change from one condition to another

allow – v. permit

contribution – n. the act of giving something

envy – n. something that cause desire

blindside – v. to surprise or shock

duration – n. the length of time that something lasts or exists

inexplicably – adv. not able to understand

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