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Top Universities; Harvard and MIT Take Legal Action Against ICE's Uncompromising Directive Order

Reporter Name: Prim Kamolyabutr

Edited By: Lulu Lamey

Harvard and MIT pursue significant lawsuit against Trump's new policy. As universities across the U.S. scramble to meet expectations and ensure safety for international students during the coronavirus pandemic. What is the right decision here?

USA - Within the past few weeks, news articles and headlines have been highlighting the topic of how Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), are filing a lawsuit to block a new Trump directive administration policy from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its order to prohibit international students in the U.S. from taking an all-online course this fall. Therefore threatening deportation.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic that has become a serious health threat, schools and colleges worldwide have been forced to educate virtually and move their courses online. This unexpected emergency waived the requirement to allow international students to remain in the United States exclusively to participate in online classes as a temporary accommodation.

A survey conducted last spring found that 92% of current international students did in fact stay in the U.S. after campuses were largely closed. However, the policy announced on Monday by the ICE, had put the 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'' as argued in their lawsuit.

It modified the initial waiver given and told students that are enrolled in the online-only programs for the fall, to depart the country immediately “or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status or potentially face immigration consequences.”

The ICE’S decision has caused distress, confusion and many challenges that take away flexibility and adaptation these students can make in such a short amount of time. This has also made the federal government force universities to reopen their in-person classes and require them to house students in dense residential, and subside the university’s judgement at all about the health risk and the educational advising. “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.... their goal is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.” Harvard and MIT wrote in the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

While the lawsuit is pending, other colleges are also facing numerous threats that result in having to rapidly implement ICE's directive as efficiently as possible before Trump finalizes his rule on it. After the announcement of the policy they had nine days time until July 15th to report their plan of action regarding classes this fall to ICE.

Universities moved quickly to reassure international students that they would do their best to make in-person class options available, such as The University of Arizona, The University of Southern California and more. Announcing that their plans to invite all students back to campus can reassure international students that they will be able to support their studies in person safely if they wish, and they may safely remain in the country, but it may take a few days.

Numerous colleges around the country have backed up Harvard and MIT or made similar statements to those previously mentioned. However, there is still a great variety of opinions on whether reopening campus’ is a smart choice and the issue is very much up for debate.


Andrew Hamilton (New York University president): "Requiring international students to maintain in person instruction or leave the country, irrespective of their own health issues or even a government mandated shutdown of New York City, is just plain wrong and needlessly rigid. If there were a moment for flexibility in delivering education, this would be it."

Cheryl Matherly (Vice president and vice provost of international affairs at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania): "If you have a student who has very real health concerns about not wanting to be doing in-person instruction, they only have one other choice, which is to return home, and face that travel risk, or face the risk of not being able to return [to the U.S.] when they are able to begin in-person instruction."

Cuccinelli (Deputy homeland security secretary): “There isn’t a reason for a person holding a student visa to be present in the country. They should go home, and they can return when the school opens.” “The new rule will encourage schools to reopen, recognizing some of them are moving their start dates up, some of them are going to hybrid models, some online, some in person. We’re trying to accommodate as many of those as we can while maintaining the protections for fraud and so forth."

William Brustein (special assistant to the president for global affairs at West Virginia University): “They will be allowed to take more than one class, or three credit hours, online, but how many?” he asked. “Let’s say they’re taking 15 hours. Can they take 12 hours, can they take nine hours online? We don’t know. We cannot advise on this point until we understand or we receive clarification.”


Burns, Hilary. “Hundreds of Colleges Back Harvard, MIT Lawsuit over International

Student Policy.”, The Business Journals - Boston Business Journal,

14 July 2020, 11:40 EDT,

Chandler, David L. “Universities Support MIT and Harvard in Legal Action against ICE Visa

Policy.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT News, 10 July 2020,

Redden, Elizabeth. Harvard and MIT Sue to Block New Rule on International Students and

Online Enrollment, An ‘Untenable Situation,’ 9 July 2020,


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