Harvard, MIT Sue ICE over International Student Policy

On the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Harvard University and MIT sued the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday over a new ICE policy forcing international students to leave the U.S. if their classes are taught entirely online because of coronavirus.

The schools are seeking a temporary restraining order on the new rule, saying it violates the Administrative Procedure Act. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Boston, alleges that ICE “fails to offer any reasoned basis that could justify the policy” and failed to “provide notice of its proposal, an opportunity for public comment, and an explanation of the rule ultimately adopted.” The policy, issued on Monday, overturned guidance universities had been given in the spring. 

“By all appearances, ICE’s decision reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes,” Harvard wrote in a press release. “The effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.”

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said the policy was meant to ensure that students and universities “understood the rules of the road” for the fall semester during an appearance on Fox Business’s Mornings with Maria on Wednesday.

“If you’re taking 100 percent of your classes online, your presence isn’t required here in the U.S. to do that. . . . We’re giving them the opportunity to take up to three classes online,” he said in response to the suit.

Active students enrolled in fully online programs must leave the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status, or face the initiation of removal proceedings. 

MIT president L. Rafael Reif said the rule “jeopardizes” international students’ academics and research.

“ICE is unable to offer the most basic answers about how its policy will be interpreted or implemented,” Reif said in a statement. “And the guidance comes after many U.S. colleges and universities either released or are readying their final decisions for the fall — decisions designed to advance their educational mission and protect the health and safety of their communities.”

MIT had previously announced that it plans to hold most classes online, with a mix of online and in-person instruction for the limited number of undergraduate students who will be allowed on campus. The school will reduce costs to students through a tuition freeze and a grant program that will offer undergraduates $5,000. 

Harvard announced Monday, the same day the ICE policy was implemented, that it plans to hold all fall classes online and still charge its full tuition of $50,000.

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