Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are suing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over a new policy that would force foreign students to return home if the courses they are enrolled in are entirely online.
“For many students, returning to their home countries to participate in online instruction is impossible, impracticable, prohibitively expensive, and/or dangerous,” the lawsuit filed in District Court in Boston Wednesday morning.
ICE announced this week that those on F-1 and M-1 student visas would need to leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools offer classes entirely online when they reopen in the fall. If they do not, they could face deportation proceedings.
Additionally, the agency announced that the State Department will not issue visas to students enrolled in full online programs, and that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would not allow them into the country.
The lawsuit by Harvard and MIT seeks a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction stopping the policy from being enforced. According to The Harvard Crimson, which first reported the lawsuit, the guidelines were released shortly after Harvard announced it would house no more than 40 percent of undergraduates and would hold all classes online in the fall.
In a statement to students, Harvard President Larry Bacow said that the policy “came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness.”
“It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others,” he said.
The lawsuit echoed that sentiment, arguing that the policy "reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes, which would require housing students in densely packed residential halls, notwithstanding the universities’ judgment that it is neither safe nor educationally advisable to do so, and to force such a reopening when neither the students nor the universities have sufficient time to react to or address the additional risks to the health and safety of their communities."
"The effect—and perhaps even the goal—is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible,” it says.
The Associated Press reports that nearly 400,000 foreigners received student visas in the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, down more than 40 percent from four years earlier.
The policy comes amid a broader push by the Trump administration to have schools and colleges open fully in the fall as a building block for the reopening of the country as a whole.
Parts of the U.S. have recently seen an increase in coronavirus cases as they go through phases of reopening after months of lockdowns, leading to proponents of continued online learning claiming that re-opening schools is dangerous. But those in favor of reopening argue that young people and children are among the least likely to suffer serious symptoms from the virus, and that countries that have reopened schools have not seen a related spike in cases.
"In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS," Trump tweeted Wednesday. "The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!"
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has kept up with strict policies on immigration, related to both the spread of the virus and the economic recovery.
The administration is quickly turning away illegal immigrants and asylum seekers at the border, often with minimal time, if any, in detention. President Trump last month signed an order expanding immigration restrictions to include bars on a number of guest worker programs until the end of the year.
Fox News’ Rob DiRienzo, Andrew Fone and The Associated Press contributed to this report.