At least seventeen US states and the District of Columbia has sued the Trump administration on Monday, seeking to block guidelines that would revoke the visas of foreign students who take classes entirely online.
A rule, issued a week ago, would end months of careful planning by colleges and universities, the lawsuit claims, and could force many students to return to their home countries during the pandemic, where their ability to study would be severely compromised.
“The Trump administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses,” Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, said in a statement announcing the suit, which accuses the administration of violating the Administrative Procedure Act.
The action, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, is the latest legal effort to contest the federal edict, which has been described by states and universities in court filings as a politically motivated attempt by the Trump administration to force universities to hold in-person classes this fall, even as many have announced they will remain largely online because of health concerns.
California filed its own lawsuit last week, after Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had already gone to court seeking to block the new rule. Arguments in the Harvard and MIT case are scheduled to be heard Tuesday, also in the district court in Boston.
The federal guidance issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which says foreign students earning their degrees entirely online cannot stay in the United States, has sent students scrambling to enroll in in-person classes that are difficult to find. Many universities are planning to offer a mix of online and in-person classes to protect the health of faculty, students and their surrounding communities during the pandemic.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the administration’s actions at a news conference last week.
“You don’t get a visa for taking online classes from, let’s say, University of Phoenix. So why would you if you were just taking online classes, generally?” she told reporters, adding, “Perhaps the better lawsuit would be coming from students who have to pay full tuition with no access to in-person classes to attend.”
A judge is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on Tuesday. If the judge does not suspend the rule, colleges across the U.S. will have until Wednesday to notify ICE if they plan to be fully online this fall.