Eighteen attorneys general sued the Trump administration Monday, joining a growing number of efforts to challenge an order that would require international students to take classes in person this fall despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and more than a dozen other tech companies and associations, as well as more than 70 higher-education associations and scores of universities, supported a lawsuit by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology seeking to block the rule. That case argues that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s decision was made as part of an apparent political strategy to force colleges to fully reopen despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

A group of 20 universities in the Western United States, including Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the University of Oregon and the California Institute of Technology, also filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to overturn the order.

A coalition of student-government leaders at more than 150 colleges spoke out against the new guidance, which has not been published, calling it xenophobic and dangerous.

“The decision to take visa protections away from international students is cruel, callous, and senseless,” Ellen Yates, student body president at the University of Virginia, said in a statement Monday. “International students are not visitors or political pawns, they are human beings pursuing education, livelihoods, and dreams.”

Carissa Cutrell, a spokeswoman for ICE, said she is unable to comment because of the pending litigation.


Last week, the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced that students enrolled in fully online programs would have to leave the United States – or transfer to a program that includes in-person classes to maintain legal status.

The government has long required international students to take most of their classes in person. But when colleges across the country switched to virtual classes in March amid the coronavirus outbreak, immigration officials quickly announced that during the national emergency, students would be granted more flexibility.

The new guidance caught many students and university officials off guard because they had expected the flexibility to continue, especially since coronavirus cases continue to rise in the United States.

In Massachusetts, international students rallied Monday afternoon after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that she was leading 17 other attorneys general in a lawsuit to stop the rule.

The case, filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, argues that the guidance is arbitrary and capricious and should be blocked because it violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

“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,” Healey said in a statement.

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