Student deportation policy reversed after state suits

New York State Attorney General Letitia James at a news conference in Manhattan on March 28, 2019. (Byron Smith/New York Daily News/TNS)

Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded a policy Tuesday that threatened to deport international college students during the COVID-19 pandemic, one day after New York’s attorney general joined other states and sued the federal administration over the measure.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed in court Tuesday to rescind last week’s directive that threatened deportation of more than 100,000 international students at New York colleges and universities and more than a million students nationwide if they did not register for in-person classes on campuses this fall.

Federal immigration authorities agreed to pull the July 6 directive and “return to the status quo” during a Boston hearing for a federal lawsuit brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The reversal came in the wake of pushback from hundreds of schools and more than half a dozen lawsuits filed against the order by the likes of Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York Attorney General Letitia James.

James joined Massachusetts and California on Monday and filed a suit against ICE and the DHS arguing the new directive was issued without observance to procedures required by law, in violation of the Administrative and Procedure Act, and was counter to prevailing public health guidelines that require social distancing and reduced activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

James called the decision “welcome news.”

“President Trump and his team threatened the public health and safety of all students, all faculty and hundreds of millions of residents across New York and the rest of the nation because of his rush to reopen schools, his anti-immigrant motives and his sagging poll numbers,” James said in a statement. “Enough is enough.”

James filed a separate lawsuit on New York’s behalf instead of joining the other, multi-state suits, because she said New York has the nation’s largest number of international students.

James held a press event late Tuesday morning with state education officials before the decision, urging Trump to reverse the policy. More than 22,000 international students attend the State University of New York’s 64 institutions, which include research universities, academic medical centers and community colleges.

Educators expressed concern Tuesday the directive would force colleges and universities to resume in-classroom instruction and increase the spread of the novel coronavirus among students, faculty and staff, and cause a strain on resources and funding to properly clean campuses and provide supplies.

SUNY provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Tod Laursen said the deployment of international students would hit the state institution’s budget. SUNY has more than a $1 billion research expenditure that employs more than 3,000 international students each year, and receives about $7 million a year from their housing and fees.

“The impact of this economically and on the academic commission is huge on the state of New York,” Laursen said. “This directive will result in the loss of millions in revenue.”

About one-third of City University of New York’s students come from other countries, with about 6,000 graduate students, CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez said.

“Many of them teach,” he explained. “This policy will take away many dedicated teachers from the classrooms when we need them. ... The research produced by the faculty and students they mentor at CUNY directly benefits the quality of life of thousands of New Yorkers.”

Rodríguez and Laursen said the institutions were prepared to advocate nationally to see the policy reversed.

“You have to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” Rodríguez said. “We are hoping just as common sense prevails and we won’t have to deal with these rules, but if that’s not the case, we’ll be ready to support our students with a menu of options. Every student is different where they are in their educational journey ... and we are hopeful that there be change.”

ICE, under the direction of the DHS, issued a waiver March 13 requiring noncitizens on F-1 and M-1 student visas to attend a majority of their classes in person after much of the nation shuttered schools or nonessential businesses. ICE’s directive was issued due to “the extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 emergency” and was to remain in “effect for the duration of the emergency.”

On July 6, ICE announced without notice it would rescind its March 13 waiver and require all international students to enroll in in-person classes for the fall 2020 semester or immediately depart the country or be denied re-entry to the United States. Schools were required to certify for each international student that the student is not taking an entirely online courseload for the fall 2020 semester by Aug. 4.

“It’s time for the president to stop treating immigrants like nothing more than scapegoats and for him to start leading our nation through this national pandemic,” James said. “Politics should have never been a factor in our nation’s public health decisions, but as long as the president continues down this path, we will continue to use every legal tool at our disposal to stop him.”

James’s suit remains active.

The Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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