American universities today claimed a win on behalf of international students when the federal government agreed to rescind its new policy that had dictated that international students taking a fully online course load in the Fall term would not be allowed to reside in the United States.
The new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ruling had sparked outrage from universities, students, and state attorneys across the country, including the University of Chicago.
ICE had given universities a deadline of July 15 to inform the government of the students' online status.
Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had filed a lawsuit against the ruling, and today's hearing on the suit hearing against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concluded within five minutes when the administration rescinded the policy.
According to the clerk's notes from the hearing, the government will fully walk back the policy to its March 9 and 13 directives, which loosened restrictions on the number of online classes permitted for international students to take.
“The government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020 policy directive… and has also agreed to rescind their implementation. The government will return to the March 9, 2020 and March 13 policy.” The policies are “being rescinded on nationwide basis.”
The resolution comes after more than 200 universities had supported the lawsuit, including the U. of C., which had filed an amicus brief in support of the Harvard/MIT lawsuit.
In an email to the University Community, U. of C. President Robert Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee said:
"The University of Chicago welcomes today’s announcement that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has agreed to rescind its July 6 directive, which jeopardized the ability of international students on F-1 visas to remain in the United States while taking classes remotely. This means that the previous ICE guidance, allowing international students to take classes remotely in the U.S. or abroad while maintaining their visa status, remains in effect.
"The University actively challenged the July 6 directive, submitting amicus briefs in support of lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia as well as providing a declaration in support of the lawsuit brought by the Illinois Attorney General and other attorneys general opposing the directive. We commend the hard work of students, faculty, and administrators throughout campus for their multifaceted efforts to support our international students.
"We are committed to ensuring that our international undergraduate, graduate, and professional students can fully participate in the intellectual life at the University. Students with additional questions may reach out to Nick Seamons, Director of the Office of International Affairs."
The resolution also follows a separate lawsuit in which 17 states and the District of Columbia attempted to stop the same policy.
Illinois Atty. Gen. Kwame Raoul had joined the latter lawsuit on Monday. A spokesperson from his office said: “We are reviewing the decision and evaluating its impact upon the litigation, but we are pleased that the federal government announced it will rescind this unlawful rule – which should never have been enacted – that would cause additional, unnecessary uncertainty for school and students in Illinois and across the country.”
Fourth-year U. of C. student Marcelo Fernandez de la Mora expressed his satisfaction with the resolution: “I think that the order is morally reprehensible and I am delighted that the current administration rescinded it.”
He also felt that the order was unfair in light of the current emergency state of the country. “The Trump administration's directive weaponized international students’ educational prospects and wellbeing in order to force universities to open up their classrooms, even with the threat of COVID-19 present.
"This directive would have even required students who are still on campus to leave and go to countries with higher levels of COVID-19.
“All in all, had this directive been implemented, there would have been grievous consequences for educational institutions across the nation.”
A spokesperson from student-run organization New Americans UChicago and (NAUC), which had co-written a statement expressing their discontent with the order and the U. of C.’s response, commented on the resolution. “While we are overjoyed by the news, it’s important to remember that this wasn’t an isolated attack.”
The group emphasized that the fight against ICE does not stop with international students. “As we speak, both DACA and TPS recipients continue to face uncertainty and undocumented migrants are being denied federal assistance in the midst of a global pandemic.
"Asylum seekers are being threatened by an arbitrary denial of asylum status due to a newly proposed rule by the Trump Administration while a recently published DHS rule makes it significantly harder for them to obtain work permits.
“As a community, we can and must do better to protect these vulnerable populations.”