Seventeen states and the District of Columbia filed a complaint in federal court on Monday seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against a new federal rule aimed at international students. The new rule, announced by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) on July 6, 2020, requires students on F-1 and M-1 visas to enroll in a sufficient number of in-person classes or leave the country or take other measures such as transferring schools. International students who fail to take the required number of in-person classes will face immigration consequences, including deportation.
The plaintiffs in the suit are challenging the July 6 directive as “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The new rule reverses guidance issued by ICE on March 13, 2020, which “due to the extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 emergency” granted exemptions allowing student visa holders to take online courses “for the duration of the emergency”. The complaint states that, as of March 13, 2020, there were 55 COVID-19 deaths in the United States, while at the time of the July directive 122,915 people had died from COVID-19 with hundreds succumbing every day. ICE provided no reason for reversing the March 13 guidance and the numbers indicate the emergency has not passed.
The new rule, according to the filing, leaves colleges and universities with an “agonizing dilemma”– find a way to offer in-person classes mere weeks before the semester begins in the midst of a pandemic or lose significant number of international students from their campuses. MIT and Harvard filed a similar suit last week; on Monday 26 municipalities across the US, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Pittsburgh, filed an amicus brief in support of those plaintiffs.