The University of Chicago announced today that it had decided to join an amicus brief supporting a federal lawsuit challenging recent regulations barring international students from remaining in the United States while taking only online courses.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed the suit against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
U of C. joins several other universities that have announced their intentions to file amicus briefs supporting Harvard and MIT including the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, Stanford, Northeastern, Cornell and Princeton Universities.
An email from President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee said that ICE had jeopardized “the ability of international students who are taking classes remotely to continue their academic pursuits in the United States. We are also working closely with peer institutions, professional associations, and others to evaluate additional legal challenges and legislative solutions.”
In a July 8 email, the U. of C. expressed their support for international students, although they had not yet announced their support for the amicus brief. “We firmly oppose this new measure and will work to lessen its impact on the University’s international students.”
ICE announced the change in regulations in a broadcast message on July 6. Because of the COVID-19 emergency, they had temporarily allowed international students to take an all-online course load for the Spring and Summer academic semesters. The temporary exemption “permitted F and M students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of maintaining a full course of study to maintain their F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.”
However, they changed course from these emergency exemptions for the Fall 2020 semester. “The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status.” ICE’s stated reason for temporary exemptions during Spring and Summer was the emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic, though these new changes come while the United States is at a record high of 3.1 million cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
U. of C.’s decision comes after increasing discontent from the student body. In a July 9 statement co-written by New Americans UChicago (NAUC) and the Partnership for the Advancement of Refugee Rights (PARR), two student-run organizations, they stated that “the University of Chicago’s response has thus far been insufficient and bordering on indifferent to the hundreds of its students jeopardized by this announcement.” They called for giving international students priority during registration so that they can secure in-person classes, creating on-campus independent study options and filing an amicus brief in support of Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit. Eleven other student-run organizations have endorsed the statement.
After news of the university’s participation in the amicus brief, NAUC issued an update: “while we celebrate this news, we still need to push for administrative reforms that better protect and serve vulnerable international students.” NAUC President Rachel Blume said in a statement that “this still doesn’t solve the problem of ensuring that all international students who want to stay on-campus can.”
Third-year international student Nguyen Linh said that they wanted to see the university do more for its international students. They compared the U. of C. to its peer institutions, saying that they felt that the university should have committed to “securing in-person classes for all international students who cannot enter the United States by opening pop-up satellite campuses, tuition reduction... [and] creating one-person in-person courses for the purposes of status retention.”
Third-year international student Miranda Zhang said that “the administration as a whole could do better for its international community.” She agreed with Linh that the U. of C. is lacking in support compared to peer institutions. “Other universities, like Columbia and UC Berkeley, have come out much stronger in supporting their students by guaranteeing some form of in-person class.”
She criticized the university’s complacency in relying on the lawsuit for results. “While I think universities should support the lawsuit, I’d much rather see them take action that they have clear agency over—their own policies.”