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Experts: ICE International Student Rule Sparks Fear, Confusion

July 09, 2020 (2 min read)

Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed, July 9, 2020

"Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued in federal court Wednesday to try to block a new Trump administration policy that would prohibit international students in the U.S. from enrolling exclusively in online courses, even if the colleges they attend will only offer online courses in the fall due to the continuing public health threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Harvard and MIT argue in their lawsuit that the policy change announced Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement threw virtually all of U.S. higher education “into chaos.” They say the decision, which would make international students enrolled exclusively in online courses subject to deportation, puts colleges in “the untenable situation of either moving forward with their carefully calibrated, thoughtful, and difficult decisions to proceed with their curricula fully or largely online in the fall of 2020 … or to attempt, with just weeks before classes resume, to provide in-person education despite the grave risk to public health and safety that such a change would entail.” The University of California announced Wednesday that it too would file suit against the federal government "for violating the rights of the University and its students." The lawsuit will seek to bar ICE from enforcing the order that UC President Janet Napolitano called “mean-spirited, arbitrary and damaging to America,” the announcement from Napolitano's office said. Harvard and MIT have both opted to offer most of their fall courses online for public health reasons. ... “There are a lot of ambiguities in the new broadcast guidance and students are trying to figure out their options,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration practice at Cornell University. "It's particularly confusing because many colleges have not decided yet what kinds of classes they’ll be offering this fall semester -- and even if colleges have made decisions, they may need to change them because of the ever-evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "A university may start with hybrid classes, but then feel it needs to change to all online classes partway through the semester. This broadcast guidance does not answer those kinds of nitty-gritty details." Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Pennsylvania State University, argues that a student would still be considered to be taking a hybrid course load if their university shifted to all-remote operations midsemester because the student's classes prior to that point were held in person. She also believes taking at least one in-person class or at least one class with a mixed online/in-person modality this fall would satisfy the new requirement. Wadhia said she has fielded more than 100 inquiries from students since Monday. "I’ve been getting a lot of questions from students who are stuck in the United States, who can’t leave because of border restrictions in their home countries," she said. She also said she's hearing from students who are fearful of returning to their home countries and have possible asylum claims."