Trump administration rescinds ICE rule on international college students

On Tuesday the Trump administration rescinded a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that would have stripped international students of their visas if their courses are taught online during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The move comes after Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sued the administration, kicking off a coalition of schools in 17 states legally challenging the policy.

A federal court judge in Boston announced the administration had rescinded the policy at the first hearing on Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union celebrated the announcement Tuesday, but called the initial policy decision part of an ongoing attack on immigrants by the administration.

“Thankfully, this attack on students is over,” said Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy for the ACLU, in a written statement. “But the administration will undoubtedly continue in its failure to protect the people in America by using the pandemic for its hateful agenda to dismantle our immigration system, rather than creating a coordinated response for the future of our nation. These actions continue to do one thing: harm us all. But today, we are reminded that victories are possible — our fight continues.”

“There are over 1 million international students in the U.S., coming from different parts of the globe, whose lives and futures were jeopardized by this cruel and senseless ban,” Flores said. “This victory belongs to those who said enough. We are grateful to students and institutions, including Harvard, MIT, and so many others who defended their students and classmates — in the courts, in the streets, and through policy shifts.”

This week UNC-Chapel Hill was among the signatories to a letter from the American Council on Education asking that the policy be rescinded.

From that letter:

Given the great uncertainty and multiple challenges facing our institutions and our students for the fall 2020 semester, the July 6 ICE directive is causing great concern and confusion on campuses across the country. We are grateful for the flexibility granted by DHS in the spring at the start of the COVID-19 crisis. This makes the July 6 directive even more perplexing. Colleges and universities want to reopen in the fall in as safe a manner as possible. But no one size fits all. As a result, colleges and universities have announced and continue to introduce multi-faceted, nuanced models for education this fall. Some are proceeding with online learning only, others intend to be primarily in-person, and many others have a range of plans for hybrid models. Institutions recognize that their plans may need to evolve depending on conditions on the ground. Regrettably, the ICE directive only undermines those efforts, creating confusion and complexity for institutions and international students, rather than certainty and clarity.

It also imposes needless hardship on thousands of international students, many of whom remained in the U.S. rather than traveling back to their home countries due to the pandemic, and now face additional costs and uncertainty if they are forced to leave the U.S. in the midst of what remains a global crisis. In addition, many of our graduate students, who would also be impacted by this order, are facing closed laboratories and research facilities, as well as questions about continuing dissertation work under this directive.

At a time when institutions are doing everything they can to help responsibly reopen campuses and serve students, flexibility rather than iron-clad federal rules is needed. DHS and the Department of State should allow any international student with a valid visa to continue their education regardless of whether a student is receiving his or her education online, in person, or through a combination of both, whether inside or outside the United States, during this unprecedented global health emergency. In addition, once U.S. consulates are reopened, the Trump administration should prioritize the processing of student visas and ensure that these incoming students, who are granted visas, are allowed to enter the U.S.

Some one million international students attend U.S. colleges and universities annually, contributing greatly to this country’s intellectual and cultural vibrancy. They also yield an estimated economic impact of $41 billion and support more than 450,000 U.S. jobs. The administration has indicated in the past that it understands the value of the United States being the destination of choice for the world’s most talented students and scholars. That is why this directive is both disappointing and counter-productive.

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