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Guilford College sues Trump admin over immigration policy affecting international students, visitors

Guilford College is one of four higher education institutions suing the Trump administration over an immigration policy that will banish an untold number of international students and exchange visitors from the U.S. for three or ten years.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina by Guilford College, Guilford College International Club, The New School in New York, Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California and Haverford College in Pennsylvania.

“The United States is a center of global education,” the document states. “Because many of the world’s leading colleges, universities, and research institutions are located here, more than a million individuals travel to the United States each year to study and teach. On August 9, 2018, Defendants adopted a new policy that is purposefully designed to impose three- and ten-year bars to reentry on tens of thousands of these individuals. This policy is a massive reconfiguration of the immigration laws relating to higher education.”

The policy was initially created in 1996 when Congress created the concept of “unlawful presence” and established a related penalty, according to the suit. An individual who is unlawfully present for more than 180 days is barred from reentering the U.S. for a period of three years. An individual who is unlawfully present for a year or more is barred from reentering for ten years.

The reentry bars are typically not subject to judicial review, and, because they preclude an individual from lawfully entering the U.S. for any purpose for a lengthy period of time, “they fundamentally disrupt the personal and professional lives of those affected, as well as the missions of affected organizations and institutions.”

A clarifying policy established the year after allowed for someone’s “unlawful presence” date to begin after either a government official or immigration judge made a determination that the individual was out-of-status and provided well-intentioned individuals an opportunity to cure their circumstances and remain in the country or depart within 180 days to prevent being barred reentry.

That policy was reaffirmed for two decades until Trump’s administration, which has been not only ruling with an iron fist when it comes to immigration but also has been spreading dangerous rhetoric and instilling unnecessary fear across the country.

The colleges in the lawsuit maintain that the new policy affects mostly international students, researchers, scholars and professors who enter the country on certain types of visas. Their “unlawful presence” under the new policy starts when they are notified the government believes they are out-of-status, which can involve technical or inadvertent errors and varying interpretations on complex issues.

“Now, when a government official or immigration judge determines that an F, J, or M visa holder is out-of-status, the unlawful-presence clock will be backdated to the day on which Defendants conclude that the visa holder first fell out-of-status,” the lawsuit states. “The immigration system is beset with processing delays, and many of these status determinations are made when an individual is applying for new immigration benefits.”

The colleges estimate that tens of thousands of those types of visa holders will be subject to the three- and ten-year reentry bars, including those who were acting in good faith.

“The imposition of a reentry bar on an international student or exchange visitor has a drastic effect on her life,” the lawsuit states. “It will preclude her from completing her degree program, deprive her of employment opportunities, and exclude her from friends and family living in the United States. For those students and visitors who have chosen to teach or work in the United States, imposition of a three- or ten-year reentry bar will fundamentally and irreparably injure their lives. It also imposes a financial harm on institutions in terms of lost tuition dollars and local communities in terms of foregone discretionary expenditures by bias holders.”

The policy is described in the suit as unlawful, arbitrary and capricious. The plaintiffs ask for the court to vacate the August policy memorandum from the Trump administration and to enjoin it from being enforced.

The schools maintain standing through investing substantial resources in programs designed to assist their students and employees with obtaining and maintaining lawful immigration status. The new policy changes their regulatory framework and will require them to expend additional resources on new training and assistance.

“The loss to the campus environment is substantial: the school is injured because the August 2018 Policy Memorandum removes a student that the school had specifically chosen to attend,” the lawsuit states. “That imposes a direct, irreparable harm on the institution and all its members.”

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