GW Joins Colleges, Universities Opposing ICE's Recent International Student Guidelines

The university joined an amicus brief and also signed a letter to Congress asking legislative leaders for help in rescinding the new Trump administration directive.

Gate
July 13, 2020

By Tatyana Hopkins

The George Washington University joined colleges and universities across the country to oppose a Trump administration directive that would prohibit international students from remaining in the country if they take an all-online courseload in the fall 2020 semester.

The university has joined the amicus brief of more than 50 public and private colleges and universities that is supporting a federal lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology challenging the new directive from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and seeking an injunction to stop the implementation of the directive.

GW is also signing onto a letter to Congress spearheaded by the American Council on Education (ACE) asking congressional leaders for their assistance in rescinding the directive. 

GW President Thomas LeBlanc, Provost M. Brian Blake and other university leaders have heard from many members of the university community regarding their concerns about the new directive aimed at international students.

“We want to send a strong message of support to our international students, who are an integral part of our university community,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “While we work with our international students to help them navigate the current situation, we are also joining with colleges and universities across the country to advocate that this directive be stopped from implementation.”

On July 9, Harvard and MIT sued ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the July 6 policy change that prevents international students in the United States from enrolling exclusively in online classes. They argued that the policy violates the rights of their universities and students and threw higher education in the country into chaos. Other lawsuits have followed, including one filed by 17 states and the District of Columbia.

According to the brief, filed Monday, the sudden policy change would require American universities to undo months of planning around the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the status of their international students.

“As a result of the July 6 directive, universities are scrambling to revisit decisions made after months of careful planning in reliance on the government’s prior guidance,” the brief said. “Yet now, the government has again reversed an administrative policy without any apparent consideration of the reliance its prior policy engendered.”

“In response to the July 6 directive, [universities] and their international students will be forced to make potentially life-altering choices,” the brief said. “Yet, [DHS and ICE] appear to have given no consideration to the irrational practical consequences that will follow from their hastily promulgated new policy.”

An amicus brief is a document filed by non-parties to a lawsuit who have a strong interest in the case at issue. It aims to provide arguments or information that the court may wish to consider.

GW filed similar briefs in March and September of 2017 opposing the Trump administration’s executive order blocking citizens from six Muslim countries from entering the United States.

The most recent brief argues that the policy change violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits arbitrary action on the part of federal agencies and requires explanation for their actions that includes a rational connection between relevant facts and data and the decision made. It also requires agencies to consider the burdens policy changes impose on regulated parties.        

“The July 6 directive fails this basic requirement,” the brief asserted. 

It noted that the U.S. Supreme Court recently blocked the government’s attempted rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for a similar reason. GW also joined an amicus brief supporting the successful challenge to that rescission.

According to the most recent brief, the new directive would place a massive administrative burden on universities, which must in the period of a few weeks revisit decisions made after months of careful planning in reliance on the government’s prior guidance affording school’s broad flexibility to navigate the public health crisis.

“Now, with the fall 2020 term less than a month away for some schools, and the COVID-19 emergency worse than ever, the government has taken almost the diametrically opposite position: F-1 student visa holders cannot take a fully online course load and still remain legally within the country,” the brief said.

The brief argued that universities would have to revamp course offering and housing arrangements as well as submit “reams” of revised paperwork to the government all while remaining in compliance with governmental public health orders and supporting students anxious about the consequences the directive may have on their health and educational progress.

It also said the policy would impose “pointless” burdens on international students including taking classes outside of their field of study to meet the in-person requirement or being required to leave the county or move if at any point their university changes its operational stance on in-person classes.

The brief called for immediate relief and said international students have already been blocked from returning to the United States or denied visas until their schools comply with the new policy.

 “The July 6 directive will inevitably force some international students to withdraw from our colleges and universities,” the brief said. “In all cases—and in addition to the tremendous harm this will do to these students—our universities and our society will suffer.”

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