• Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit Tuesday against US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over a new rule that threatened many international students with deportation.
  • The new policy said that students whose courses no longer have an in-person element because of the COVID-19 pandemic would lose their permission to be in the US, and may get deported.
  • Trump singled out Harvard yesterday, criticising the university for not reopening in the fall as he seeks to complete the reopening of the country despite spiking coronavirus infections. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are suing the Trump administration over an order depriving foreign students of permission to remain in the US if their courses are mostly taught online.

The elite universities filed the lawsuit Wednesday morning against the Department of Homeland Security and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A copy of the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Massachusetts, is hosted on Harvard’s website.

The suit follows new guidance by ICE which said that students on F-1 visas would no longer be allowed to stay in the US unless they had in-person classes to attend.

The order means that students on online-only courses would have to transfer to courses with some in-person tuition, or leave. Students enrolled on online-only courses who are currently in other countries would be denied permission to enter the US, according to a press release by ICE on Tuesday. 

“The order came down without notice — its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote in an internal email cited by the Harvard Crimson campus newspaper. “We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal.”

Many schools are not planning a mass return of students to campuses in the fall. The ICE guidance revoked a temporary permission for students to stay which was issued earlier in the pandemic.

MIT and Harvard are seeking to block enforcement of the new policy, which was announced Monday. They also asked that it be halted permanently and declared invalid.

Among its arguments, Harvard said that attending online classes would be impossible for many students, including those who live in countries like Syria, where there is a civil war, or Ethiopia, which is under an internet blackout.

The institution pointed out that many of its staff and faculty members are over 60, and therefore among the groups most at risk from the disease should it fully reopen and be hit by an outbreak. 

President Donald Trump on Tuesday criticized Harvard directly for its plan to bring only 40% of graduates back to campus, and teach courses online during the fall as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the US. 

“I think it’s ridiculous, I think it’s an easy way out and I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said.

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