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The Fight for International Students at US Universities

JUL 13, 2020 • 5 min read

With less than a month until most US colleges and universities begin instruction for the fall semester, the Trump administration alongside ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) placed restrictions on international students studying in the United States. The new policy would ban international students from studying at colleges through online-only instruction this fall. This decision caused an immediate uproar in the education sphere as it forces students to expose themselves to public health risks or risk deportation. Many international students that are currently in the United States have opted out of flying back to their home countries due to the risk of international travel and possibly exposing their families to the virus and spreading the virus altogether. In addition, many international students hold jobs, internships, and volunteer positions here in the US; being forced to leave the country would in turn force these students to walk away from additional sources of education and/or income.

Just last Wednesday, Harvard and MIT announced that they would be taking legal action against the Trump administration. Harvard's president, Lawrence Bacow, believes the policy "came down without notice — its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness.” President Bacow stated: "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." This policy put in place by the Trump administration is devastating for international students at institutions like Harvard and MIT, among many, which have announced that the majority of instruction will be online this fall.

Shortly after Harvard and MIT announced the lawsuit, 17 US states (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin), as well as the District of Columbia, have sued to block the Trump administration from revoking visas and permits for international students whose colleges are exclusively online this coming semester or year. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and one of the leaders of the coalition of states suing the federal government stated, “the Trump administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses.” The state of California also filed its own lawsuit against the Trump administration for the same reason.

Since the 18 states and US Capitol have filed their lawsuits, more than 200 colleges/universities across the country have expressed their alliance with the states’ action against the administration. These 200+ schools have signed court briefs supporting in federal court in Boston. A judge is scheduled to hear the case in court tomorrow. If the judge decides not to suspend the rule, colleges will only have until Wednesday (approximately 24 hours) to notify ICE if they plan for instruction to be all online this fall.

The group of schools in support of this lawsuit includes all of the Ivy League and other top schools including Stanford and Duke. Together, these universities enroll more than 213,000 international students. The goal of these schools is to ask the court to block the new rule as soon as possible as it’s already deterred and prevented from international students entering the country. Just two days after the policy was announced, a student from DePaul university was prohibited from entering the US after arriving in San Francisco. In addition, a Harvard student from Belarus was turned away from boarding a flight to the US from Minsk last week.

If the judge decides tomorrow to uphold the policy, schools including Princeton University will likely reconsider their fall plans. As of right now, first-year Princeton students and juniors may live on campus this fall, and sophomores and seniors will live on campus during the spring semester. In just a matter of days, the future of US education may be changed entirely.

Update (July 14, 1:28 pm PDT) - A federal judge has announced that the Trump administration has retracted its policy that would bar international students who only take online courses from staying in the US.

Shannon F.

Written by

Shannon F.

Shannon completed her Bachelors at Franklin University Switzerland where she majored in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies & minored in Social Justice and Sustainability. Shannon has a passion for learning new languages, environmental and social justice, and immersing herself in new cultures. Shannon has worked in higher education and now works as an Education Coordinator with Crimson. Shannon currently lives in Denver, Colorado, and enjoys reading, hiking, practicing yoga, and traveling.