The University of Michigan will sue the Trump administration over its July 6 guidance forcing international students to leave the United States if their college only offers online classes in the fall. The University will join Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lawsuit as a friend of the court, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald confirmed in an email to The Daily Thursday. The University’s brief could be filed as soon as Friday.
Public Policy dean Michael Barr hinted at the move in a tweet supporting international students early Thursday morning.
“We’re going to join other Universities in suing to block this arbitrary ICE guidance, which serves no legitimate governmental purpose and penalizes our international students, who so enrich our educational community,” Barr wrote.
The lawsuit, filed against the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, alleges the new guidance is “arbitrary and capricious” in its removal of emergency COVID-19 exceptions for F-1 students taking online classes.
The lawsuit argues the guidance fails to consider the effects on universities that have been planning for months for the 2020-2021 year, as well as the “devastating effects” on international students caught in limbo. It also states that the guidance’s “lack of any real justification” means it could have been implemented to compel universities to change their fall plans. The guidance from DHS was announced hours after Harvard University released its plan for an all-online semester.
The lawsuit says the July 6 guidance threatens to force many international students to withdraw from Harvard and MIT, forcing both schools to make an “impossible choice.”
“Lose numerous students who bring immense benefits to the school or take steps to retain those students through in-person classes, even when those steps contradict each school’s judgment about how best to protect the health of the students, faculty, staff, and the entire university community,” the lawsuit reads.
On March 13, ICE announced international students attending a school that temporarily switches to remote instruction due to the pandemic will retain their visa status. The March 13 guidance indicated the provision would remain “in effect for the duration of the emergency.” The lawsuit points out that President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration has not been rescinded and COVID-19 cases have reached record highs in recent weeks.
University President Mark Schlissel wrote Tuesday the guidance does not interfere with the University’s plans for a hybrid fall semester. However, he wrote the University opposes “arbitrary restrictions” on international students.
“Even with this initial review that shows a less direct impact on our students, we agree with the statement from the Association of American Universities – of which U-M is a member – that calls this policy ‘immensely misguided and deeply cruel to the tens of thousands of international students who come to the United States every year,’” Schlissel wrote.
According to the University’s International Center website, international students must take at least one in-person class under the new guidance. The Registrar’s office and schools and colleges are working to finalize course instruction modes by Aug. 7, after which students will be allowed to adjust their schedules to fulfill their immigration requirements.
The International Center website said the new guidance would only force international students out of the United States if the University transitioned to online only instruction before Nov. 30.
“The only scenario in which we make such a switch is if we have severe COVID occurrence in our community and it is deemed absolutely necessary to go online only,” the website reads.
The University is also working on reissuing I-20 documents to international students with a statement confirming it is not online-only for the fall.
Dozens of other universities have announced their intent to file briefs in favor for the lawsuit as of Thursday.
Summer News Editor Calder Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org