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Trump Administration Backs Down on Plan to Deport International Students with All-Online Classes

— July 14, 2020

The Trump administration was facing lawsuits from hundreds of schools across the country.

The Trump administration will not follow through on its plan to expel international students whose schools switch to all-online curricula.

According to The Associated Press, the Department of Homeland Security appears to have acceded to significant backlash against its directive. Facing the prospect of a lawsuit brought by Harvard University and MIT, the DHS on Tuesday agreed in district court to rescind its order and “return to the status quo.”

That means that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will now refer to visa guidance issued this March, which suspends the usual rules surrounding online enrollment for international students.

The government’s reversal is likely to provide significant relief to international students across the United States, many of whom faced a distinctly uncertain future after the DHS announced new rules in early July. In its directive, the agency informed foreign students holding F-1 and M-1 visas that they could be deported from the United States, or refused entry, if they are not taking at least one in-person course this coming semester.

The department’s last-minute order appears to have been politically motivated.

As LegalReader reported last week, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli suggested the administration was using international students’ vulnerable position to get universities to “reopen” in time for fall.

However, multiple lawsuits were filed against the Trump administration, Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, all intending to block the order’s enforcement. The Associated Press notes that the administration, up until today, was facing at least eight federal lawsuits, as well as opposition from hundreds of colleges and universities across the country.

Some schools—including Harvard and MIT—had already announced that they would be holding all fall classes online.

Ken Cuccinelli, then Virginia’s Attorney General, speaking at CPAC in 2012. Image via Flickr/user:Gage Skidmore. (CCA-BY-2.0).

But under the Department of Homeland Security’s new rule, students at schools like Harvard would either have to return to their home countries or transfer to another institution to remain in the United States—despite the fact that many colleges have long since finished processing transfer applications for the upcoming semester.

On Tuesday, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow called the administration’s reversal a “significant victory.”

“While the government may attempt to issue a new directive, our legal arguments remain strong and the Court has retained jurisdiction, which would allow us to seek judicial relief immediately to protect our international students should the government again act unlawfully,” Bacow said.

Similarly, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said the administration must realize that its decisions affect real people.

“This case also made abundantly clear that real lives are at stake in these matters, with the potential for real harm,” Reif said in a statement. “We need to approach policy making, especially now, with more humanity, more decency—not less.”

Terry Hartle, vice president for the American Council on Education, told The Associated Press that schools’ response to the potential expulsion of international students was unprecedented.

“There has never been a case where so many institutions sued the federal government,” Hartle said. “In this case, the government didn’t even try to defend its policymaking.”

Several states also sued the administration, including Massachusetts.

In a statement, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey made comments similar to Hartle’s saying it seems the administration knew its guidance was unlawful.

“This is why we sue,” Healey wrote on Twitter. “The rule was illegal and the Trump administration knew they didn’t have a chance.”

“They may try this again,” she added. “We will be ready.”


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Trump administration rescinds rule on foreign students

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