Northeastern University announced Wednesday afternoon that it would join Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in filing a federal lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over new rules barring international students from living in the country while taking online courses.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, asks for a temporary restraining order to keep Homeland Security and ICE from enforcing the federal guidelines which state that removal proceedings could be initiated for international students who refuse to transfer to a school offering in-person classes.
"Immediately after the Fourth of July weekend, ICE threw Harvard and MIT— indeed, virtually all of higher education in the United States—into chaos," the suit alleges, adding that ICE's action "leaves hundreds of thousands of international students with no educational options within the United States" weeks before the start of the fall semester. "Moreover, for many students, returning to their home countries to participate in online instruction is impossible, impracticable, prohibitively expensive, and/or dangerous."
"Northeastern is joining Harvard and MIT in a lawsuit against the US Dept. of Homeland Security against recent rules that would bar international students from legally remaining in the US if they take classes entirely online this fall," Northeastern University said in a tweet.
In a letter showing support for its international students, Georgetown University in Washington also said it was joining the effort against Homeland Security's policy.
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Both Harvard and MIT announced this week that they would be taking a mostly online approach to the fall semester. Most other area schools are preparing to bring most students back to campus under stringent safety restrictions.
Harvard announced Monday it will only allow 40% of its undergraduate students to return to campus this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic while other students continue to learn remotely.
And MIT announced Tuesday that seniors will be the only students invited back to campus this fall. Other students can apply for "special consideration housing" on a case-by-case basis, including for visa issues.
Under the guidelines issued by ICE, “students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.”
Students who are enrolled in such programs “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction,” according to federal immigration authorities.
International students in the U.S. contributed nearly $41 billion to the national economy in the 2018-2019 academic year, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
“The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness," Harvard President Larry Bacow said in a message to the Harvard community on Wednesday. "It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others. This comes at a time when the United States has been setting daily records for the number of new infections, with more than 300,000 new cases reported since July 1."
Speaking Tuesday at an event on efforts to reopen schools in the fall, President Donald Trump publicly criticized Harvard for its decision to go online.
“I see where Harvard announced that they’re closing for the season or for the year,” he said. “I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s an easy way out. And I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, you want to know the truth. But I noticed that today, and probably others are doing that.
“That’s called the easy way out,” Trump continued. “I don’t know if people are helping them. I guess their endowment is plenty big; they don’t have a problem with that. But that’s not what we want to do.”