California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Thursday that the state will challenge the Trump administration’s decision not to allow foreign students to take online-only courses in the US this fall semester, marking yet another lawsuit against the guidance.
“This Trump administration policy turns our universities into hotspots of the disease. This policy is just unlawful, it’s dangerous and it’s morally reprehensible,” Becerra said in a virtual news conference, alongside representatives from California Community Colleges and California State University.
In the wake of the announcement, USC said it will work to offer in-person classes to international students so that they can maintain their visa status. It’s unclear exactly how that would work, after the private university earlier this month announced courses would mostly be held online this fall.
In a letter to the campus community, USC President Carol Folt indicated details of the plan are still being worked out.
“Given the broad range of courses being offered, both in person and online, we are optimistic we will be able to support our international students to study in person safely if they wish, but it may take a few days,” she wrote.
The guidance issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement has received pushback from universities and lawmakers who argue it puts students in a precarious position and threatens to put them in harm’s way in the throes of a pandemic. Earlier Thursday, nearly 100 members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, urging the department to rescind the policy.
“ICE’s announcement of their plans to force out or deport international students who remain at U.S. colleges and universities and who are taking a full online course load is cruel and unconscionable,” the letter reads. Signatories include Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as well as Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
Visa requirements for students have always been strict and coming to the US to take online-only courses has been prohibited. ICE maintained that prohibition in its guidance, while providing some flexibility for hybrid models, meaning a mix of online and in-person classes.
The agency suggested that students currently enrolled in the US consider other measures, like transferring to schools with in-person instruction.
“If a school isn’t going to open or if they’re going to be 100% online, then we wouldn’t expect people to be here for that,” acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.
As the fall semester nears, universities have had to chart another path forward, taking into consideration the spread of coronavirus. Some have opted to go online, including Harvard.
On Wednesday, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also filed a lawsuit against the guidance. Filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the lawsuit seeks to block the directive, arguing it violates the Administrative Procedures Act. The universities argued that ICE’s decision not to provide an exemption for online-only courses puts them in an “untenable situation” of either proceeding with their plans to operate fully or largely online or attempt to provide in-person learning.
California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley echoed similar concerns Thursday, saying: “This is a time where we need to assure our students, not create more fear and anxiety.”
“Many of our international students do not have the resources to get back on a plane and go to their home countries,” he added.
The lawsuit will be filed in the Northern District of California.