Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday in response to its order barring many international students from studying in the United States this fall.
ICE announced on Monday that visas will not be issued to international students enrolled in schools that are entirely online for the fall semester, and those already in the U.S. must either leave the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the lawsuit seeks to prevent ICE and the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing the policy, arguing it violates the Administrative Procedure Act.
Just hours before the order was released, Harvard announced that all courses during the 2020-2021 academic year will be online, and that only first years and other students whose homes are unfit for remote learning will be allowed to return to campus in the fall.
"The order 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," Harvard University President Larry Bacow said, according to CNN.
MIT similarly announced on Tuesday that only seniors will be allowed to return to campus in the fall, requiring other students whose homes are unsafe or unfit for remote learning to submit a request for housing.
Harvard and MIT have approximately 5,000 and 4,000 international students respectively, according to The Washington Post.
Penn and dozens of universities across the nation have adopted a hybrid model of in-person and virtual instruction for fall 2020. Although courses at Penn with less than 25 students are allowed to have in-person instruction, many departments and professors are already opting for strictly online learning — leaving students with limited options to take in-person classes in the fall.
The order has left international students scrambling to find in-person courses in order to remain in the United States. Penn condemned the order and said it is committed to helping its students continue their studies in the country.
“Penn is currently assessing the situation and is prepared to support international students in fulfilling all of the necessary requirements to maintain a valid immigration status,” International Student and Scholar Services Director Rodolfo Altamirano wrote to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote to the DP that the U.S. government should be working to make sure that international students can pursue their studies in the United States, not “sowing chaos in the lives of committed and dedicated students.”