Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have won their case against the Trump Administration to block a policy threatening to deport international students whose courses will take place online this Autumn.

On Tuesday, July 14, the Trump Administration rescinded a policy to strip students of their visas if their classes only consist of online learning and not in-person teaching. In a hearing held before US District Judge Alison D. Burroughs, it was announced that the federal government had decided to revert the policy that had been developed in March. 

Harvard and MIT, two universities who will operate online next semester, sued the Federal Government in an effort to protect their international students against the policy announced by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) threatening their deportation. The policy also stated that any colleges running online exclusively cannot take any exchange students in the coming semester.

The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court of Massachusetts, lists the defendants as the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Department of Homeland Security and seeks a temporary restraining order preventing the enforcement of the policy as it violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires published notice of proposed and final rulemaking. They also asked that the order be declared unlawful.

In a statement released on Wednesday, July 8, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow stated: “The order came down without notice – its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness.” He continued that the policy showed a complete disregard for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others. Bacow explained that the university sought to balance concerns for public health with the preservation of its academic mission of teaching and scholarship. He understood that for many international students, studying in the US is the fulfilment of a life-long dream and he promised to “pursue this case vigorously so that our international students – and international students across the country – can continue their studies without the threat of deportation.”

Leaders of many other universities, such as UCLA, Princeton, and Northeastern University issued statements supporting international students and criticizing the order. They argue that the policy is politically motivated and pressures universities and colleges into reopening. Despite the number of cases in the US continuing to soar, with 3.58 million confirmed cases and roughly 138 thousand deaths, Trump appears adamant about reviving the country in time for elections in November.

ICE has declined to comment on the policy, however in an interview with CNN on July 7, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II remarked, “If they’re not going to be a student or they’re gonna’ be 100 percent online, then they don’t have a basis to be here.” He continued, “They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens.”

Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General released a contradictory statement insisting: “Massachusetts is home to thousands of international students who should not fear deportation or be forced to put their health and safety at risk in order to advance their education. This decision from ICE is cruel, it’s illegal and we will sue to stop it.”

Ordinarily, those studying in the US under an F-1 Visa could only take one class online, however, since March 13, the number of online classes allowed has been increased to accommodate students finishing their studies during the pandemic. As a result, those undertaking “hybrid” learning next semester will be allowed to stay in the country. However, the universities providing hybrid learning systems must prove that students are taking as many in-person classes as possible to maintain their status.

Emma Hanrahan – Reporter