MIT and Harvard today asked a federal judge to block a new ICE ruling that would force foreign students already enrolled in college here to either find schools that would teach them in person or leave the country.
As have many other schools, Harvard and MIT have announced fall plans to conduct classes online, even for students allowed to live on campus - only seniors at MIT and mainly freshmen at Harvard - because of Covid-19 concerns. The new ICE regulation, announced without prior notice on Monday, will screw both the students and colleges across the country and violates federal law, the two say.
ICE’s action leaves hundreds of thousands of international students with no educational options within the United States. Just weeks from the start of the fall semester, these students are largely unable to transfer to universities providing on-campus instruction, notwithstanding ICE’s suggestion that they might do so to avoid removal from the country. Moreover, for many students, returning to their home countries to participate in online instruction is impossible, impracticable, prohibitively expensive, and/or dangerous.
ICE’s action also leaves universities across the country, including Harvard and MIT, 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 - which, under ICE’s new directive, would undermine the education, safety, and future prospects of their international students and their campus community - 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.
By all appearances, ICE’s decision reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes, which would require housing students in densely packed residential halls, notwithstanding the universities’ judgment that it is neither safe nor educationally advisable to do so, and to force such a reopening when 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. The effect - and perhaps even the goal - is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.
Universities and students have been planning the 2020-2021 academic year for months in reliance on ICE’s recognition that the COVID-19 pandemic compelled allowing international students to remain in the country even if their studies had been moved entirely online. ICE’s rescission of that recognition failed to consider numerous weighty interests, and is itself arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. Further, ICE’s action is procedurally defective under the Administrative Procedure Act. It should be set aside, and the government required to abide by the guidance it put forward in March and on which universities and students relied in planning a fall semester during an ongoing pandemic.
Separately, MIT President L Rafael Reif sent a letter to MIT students and staffers this morning:
Our international students now have many questions – about their visas, their health, their families and their ability to continue working toward an MIT degree. Unspoken, but unmistakable, is one more question: Am I welcome?
At MIT, the answer, unequivocally, is yes.
MIT’s strength is its people – no matter where they come from. I know firsthand the anxiety of arriving in this country as a student, excited to advance my education, but separated from my family by thousands of miles. I also know that welcoming the world’s brightest, most talented and motivated students is an essential American strength.