WASHINGTON: Seventeen states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on Monday against the Trump administration’s plan to strip international students of their visas if all of their classes move online due to coronavirus, joining more than 200 universities that have also gone to the courts on the issue.
Led by Massachusetts, the lawsuit is concurrent with a separate case filed by MIT and Harvard, which is now backed by scores of universities and colleges across the United States. A hearing on the institutional lawsuit is expected on Tuesday even as universities are racing to comply with or get around the Trump move to force them to re-open, failing which foreign students could be squeezed out of the country.
The suit by the mostly-Democratic states, which was filed in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Monday, calls the ICE guidelines “senseless and cruel,” and calls for a temporary restraining order and eventually its dismissal.
Backing the lawsuit by the universities, including the full complement of Ivy League schools, the states say they have been blindsided by the Trump administration after universities and colleges had announced plans for the fall semester, including online and hybrid courses, throwing the whole system into chaos.
“Now, with insufficient notice, zero explanation, and severely depleted resources, colleges and universities are forced to readjust all of those plans to account for whether every single international student, in every single program, will have sufficient in person learning opportunities to maintain their visa status in the United States,” the suit says.
The states argued that the Trump administration’s actions are vindictive and placed not only a heavy financial burden on the universities, but they would also lose the ability to recruit and retain the best students from around the world. States such Maryland, Michigan, and Pennsylvania covet foreign students because of the value they bring economically to campus towns but also for connecting them to the global economy.
“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,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement announcing the suit.
Signatories to the lawsuit include Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. They are mostly run by Democrats administrations, although Maryland and Vermont, which are run by moderate Republican governors, joined the lawsuit.
Some observers see the Trump administration’s action as twin-strikes against the academia, which the President sees as being overrun by the “radical left”, and foreign students, who his base sees as a threat to “American jobs.” Trump won 20 of the country’s least educated states (with the least number of college degrees) in the 2016 election.