(Update: Adding lawsuit filed by 20 Western universities)
SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum on Monday joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit to stop a new federal rule that they said threatens to bar hundreds of thousands of international students from studying in the United States. A coalition of 20 Western U.S. universities filed their own federal suit to do the same.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), challenges the federal government’s “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.”
In Oregon, there were over 13,000 international students who were studying in the state based on the most recent statewide data, and most of these students were likely on F-1 and M-1 visas.
“If we do not quickly stop this rule from going into effect, our higher education system will be dramatically changed. Thousands of Oregon international students who are supposed to start classes in a few weeks will risk deportation, and may lose entirely their access to education in the United States,” Rosenblum said.
“This administration has repeatedly looked for ways to punish immigrants, and this is just another cruel example. Except this time, they are targeting students who are in Oregon to receive an education and give back to our communities," she added.
"They are also playing with the health of students during this pandemic, and circumventing public health guidance which encourages social distancing and distance learning when possible. Colleges and universities are united with us in saying this rule will have dramatic impacts upon our state.”
The lawsuit challenges an abrupt policy change by ICE to reverse guidance issued on March 13 that recognized the COVID-19 public health emergency and allowed international students with F-1 and M-1 visas to take classes online for the duration of the emergency.
On July 6, ICE announced that international students can no longer live in the United States and take all of their classes online during the pandemic, upending months of careful planning by colleges and universities to limit in-person instruction in favor of remote learning.
Kyle Thomas, Director of Legislative and Policy Affairs for the State of Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission filed a written declaration with the lawsuit. Thomas said that based on average tuition, books and living expenses across the state, the direct economic loss to the state of the proposed ICE rule change for the 2020-2021 school years is $144,735,500.
In the filed declaration, Thomas said, “The State of Oregon and Oregon’s higher education system will be dramatically, irreversibly, negatively affected by the proposed temporary rule of the Immigration and Customs (ICE) to limit or restrict foreign students with F-1 and M-1 visas from continuing their education if some or all of the education is online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"ICE’s newly-announced proposed temporary rule, not yet finalized or registered in the Federal Register, proposed to affect the Fall 2020 education term, just six to eleven weeks away for most private and public higher education institutions.”
The lawsuit details the substantial harms that the new rule places on schools and students, and says the abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threatens their states in a number of ways:
- Fails to consider the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff;
- Fails to consider the tremendous costs and administrative burden it would impose on schools to readjust plans and certify students;
- Fails to consider that, for many international students, remote learning in their home counties is not possible;
- Imposes significant financial harm to schools, as international students pay hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition, housing, dining, and other fees;
- Imposes harm to schools’ academic, extracurricular, and cultural communities, as international students contribute invaluable perspectives and diverse skillsets; and
- Forces colleges and universities to offer in-person classes amid a pandemic or lose significant numbers of international students who will have to leave the country, transfer, or disenroll from the school.
In addition to Oregon, and lead state Massachusetts, the lawsuit was joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Oregon State University – along with 19 other western United States universities – filed a lawsuit that seeks to keep DHS from enacting proposed restrictions on international students taking online college courses while in the United States.
The lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order was filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene and seeks to protect the educational status of nearly 3,500 students attending OSU.
“The federal government’s proposed restrictions are reckless and arbitrary, and without notice put at risk the education and wellness of thousands of international students,” said F. King Alexander, Oregon State University’s president.
The coalition of public research universities and liberal arts colleges seeks to keep the federal government from imperiling visas or deporting international students whose studies end up being entirely online in the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. OSU and the other universities are seeking an injunction against new guidance issued July 6 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Other universities in the coalition include: the University of Oregon, the University of Southern California, Arizona State University, California Institute of Technology, Chapman University, Claremont McKenna College, Northern Arizona University, Pitzer College, Pomona College, Santa Clara University, Scripps College, Seattle University, Stanford University, St. Mary’s College of California, the University of Arizona, University of the Pacific, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco and the University of Utah.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, OSU and many U.S. universities and colleges transitioned in spring from in-person to remote instruction. At the time, the federal government relaxed existing immigration rules to allow international students to take courses online while in the U.S. or abroad while retaining their immigration status due to the pandemic. Prior to March, international students could only take one course or three credit hours online per term.
In the weeks ahead, it is anticipated that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will issue new orders to reverse the COVID19-related flexibility provided since March.
The lawsuit says that the proposed order will force tens of thousands of international students to leave the country before fall term classes start in late August or September or transfer to a U.S. school that offers in-person instruction. At OSU, such an order could affect up to 11% of the university’s student body. Last fall, OSU enrolled 3,492 international undergraduate and graduate students.
“OSU fully supports its international students in completing their education,” said Alexander. “If enacted, the federal order will force students to return to their home countries during a global pandemic and to relocate to their home countries – many of which have unstable political and public health conditions. Meanwhile, some students no longer have homes in those countries.”
Alexander said the July 6 federal government order is requiring universities and colleges to hastily comply with a July 15 deadline to submit an operational plan to ICE to reopen fully with on-site instruction for fall classes or a hybrid plan for some on-site and some online instruction. While OSU is planning for mixed modality instruction – utilizing on-site, remote and online instruction, the course of the virus that causes COVID-19 may change and require OSU to utilize remote instruction, as was the case in spring term.
“The timing of the guidance is particularly harmful for our international students and OSU,” Alexander said. “In the midst of the pandemic, the university has invested substantially in planning for fall term classes and operations, and our international students have engaged significantly in planning for their 2020-21 education.”
Alexander said federal orders should not place such burdens on international students and America’s universities and colleges without notice, considerations of the impact and well-reasoned explanations, all of which he said are required by federal law.
“Public health, personal wellness and continuing all students’ education should remain our short and long-term focus,” Alexander said.
“Enrolling international students will remain a core element of the global mission of Oregon State University. Engagement of international students, researchers and educators in education and the open and interdisciplinary pursuit of research and discovery is foundational to OSU’s developing graduates from throughout Oregon, the nation and the world to succeed in a 21st century economy and culture.”
On Friday, OSU also joined 178 U.S. colleges and universities in signing onto an amicus brief supporting Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s legal complaint against proposed U.S. Department of Homeland Security restrictions on international students taking online courses while in America.
The amicus brief was filed by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. The amicus brief and list of signatories is available here.