Schools Sue to Stop Ice from Deporting Foreign Students

'The adverse consequences of this sudden displacement are devastating financially and personally...'

Johns Hopkins University has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration’s decision to make international students leave the U.S. if they intend to take classes entirely online starting this fall.

The Baltimore private institution filed the lawsuit Friday against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in federal court in the District of Columbia, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The plan is intended to discourage schools from making politically motivated decisions to close due to the coronavirus.

University closures in March played a substantial role in hyping the panic over the pandemic, although roughly half of the resultant deaths have come from outbreaks in nursing homes.

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The US mortality rate has remained below the global average, with both hovering just below 5 percent. Most of the non-elderly patients who succumb to the virus have conditions or lifestyles that predispose them to risk, including obesity, diabetes and smoking.

However, the recovery rate has steadily risen to above 90 percent since April, and it is widely believed that many of those who contract the virus show no symptoms at all, possibly helping to foster herd immunity by developing antibodies from the exposure.

The Johns Hopkins lawsuit complains, however, that ICE’s decision “completely upended” the university’s reopening plans for the upcoming semester.

ICE notified colleges Monday that international students will be forced to leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools operate entirely online this fall.

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New visas will not be issued to students at those schools, and others at universities offering a mix of online and in-person classes will be barred from taking all of their classes online.

The guidance says international students won’t be exempt even if an outbreak forces their schools online during the fall term.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have also filed a lawsuit to prevent federal immigration authorities from enforcing the rule. Neither school plans to offer in-person classes this fall.

About 5,000 international students are enrolled at Johns Hopkins.

The school had plans for hybrid semesters with a mix of in-person and online classes. It also intended to shift to online-only classes after the Thanksgiving break.

The lawsuit characterized the Trump administration’s decision as “arbitrary and capricious,” language commonly used in challenges to violations of the Administrative Procedures Act.

The Supreme Court has rebuffed the administration several times in lawsuits that use a similar tactic, including the court’s recent overturn of Trump’s executive action reversing the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The likely aim of the lawsuit is to obtain a lower court injunction blocking the policy in the meantime until after the November election.

Although there is nothing barring the students from engaging in the online classes in their home country, many of the foreign students enroll specifically to obtain student visas and bask in American cultural experiences—as well as potential job opportunities.

The complaint claims the policy puts the university in the “untenable dilemma”: Either follow its reopening plans or attempt to offer in-person instruction to allow international students to remain enrolled.

The universities that enroll them would likely face a considerable loss of revenue both from tuition and other outside funding should the students choose not to matriculate.

“The adverse consequences of this sudden displacement are devastating financially and personally,” according to the complaint.

ICE did not respond to a request for comment from the newspaper.

In a statement earlier this week, the U.S. State Department said international students are welcome in the U.S., but the policy “provides greater flexibility for nonimmigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses across America.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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