- The universities sought a temporary restraining order on the July 6 order
- The order was "unlawful", said the universities
- US ordered to strip foreign students of visas if their classes go online
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have sued the Trump administration over its order to strip international college students of their US visas and deport them if their courses go entirely online because of the coronavirus.
The universities, in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday at the US District Court in Boston, requested a temporary restraining order to pause the July 6 government order. The order was "unlawful", said the universities, asking the court to stop the US Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement from the enforcing federal guidelines that will force international students to leave America.
A temporary restraining order will put the Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy on hold for 14 days. In court papers, the universities said they relied on the Department of Homeland Security's policy from March that allowed foreign students in the US to remain and to allow new students to arrive this fall.
The controversial order said foreign students pursuing degrees in America would have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switched to online-only classes in the fall semester.
The US Department of State would not issue visas to students in schools or programmes that are fully online for the fall semester nor would the US Customs and Border Protection allow the students to enter the US, said a press release by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency suggested that students consider other measures like transferring to schools with in-person instruction.
According to a report in The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow said in an email that the order came down without notice, its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness. "We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal... We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students - and international students at institutions across the country - can continue their studies without the threat of deportation," Mr Bacow said, according to the report.
The order potentially impacts thousands of Indian students.
India sent the largest number of students (251,290) to the US after China (478,732) in 2017 and 2018, according to a report.
Students enrolled in US universities are given F-1 Visas. The order means that those in courses that move online will no longer get F-1 visas and will be stopped from entering the US on F-1 visas.
President Donald Trump's move was is seen as an attempt to pressure universities into reopening and abandoning restrictions many announced to fight Covid-19.
Trump had attacked Harvard University's decision to move all its courses online, calling it "ridiculous."
"I think it's ridiculous. I think it's an easy way out. And I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves," the US President said at a White House roundtable discussion during which he called for schools and universities to reopen for the next semester.
MIT has said many graduate students and research staff will be allowed on campus but to ensure distancing, most administrative staff who could work remotely would continue to do so.
The petition by the universities said: "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."