Harvard and MIT Sue ICE and Department of Homeland Security Over Plan to Deport Online Students

ICE plans to deport college students on student visas if their schools only offer online courses, and now MIT and Harvard are suing the agency.


Image via Getty/Maddie Meyer


Following the news that ICE plans to deport college students on student visas if their school is only offering online courses, two universities have filed a lawsuit against the federal agency. The Harvard Crimson reports that Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a lawsuit in District Court in Boston on Wednesday against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The lawsuit aims to land a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to stop ICE and the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing the new plan, which will see thousands of international students deported. "The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness," said Harvard president Lawrence S. Bacow. "We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal."

In a letter, MIT president L. Rafael Reif added, "In the lawsuit, we ask the court to prevent ICE and DHS from enforcing the new guidance and to declare it unlawful."

He noted that international students are welcome, regardless of what ICE might have people believe. "MIT’s strength is its people—no matter where they come from. I know firsthand the anxiety of arriving in this country as a student, excited to advance my education, but separated from my family by thousands of miles. I also know that welcoming the world’s brightest, most talented and motivated students is an essential American strength."

Following ICE's announcement on Monday, top universities across the country vowed to protect international students. As Forbes pointed out, schools including Harvard, Columbia, Brown, Stanford, NYU, and the University of Pennsylvania condemned ICE's decision to deport international students who will only have online classes this year.

The Harvard Crimson reported on Tuesday that school president Lawrence S. Bacow has condemned the statement from ICE. "We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem, giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools," he said in a statement.

Harvard shared on Monday, prior to ICE's announcement, that it would hold all of its courses online and only allow 40 percent of students to live on campus this fall. Since then, staff at the school have been reaching out to U.S. ambassadors in order to "expedite visa processes."

Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger also condemned the move in a statement on Monday, noting that "for the large community of international students who cannot come to Columbia because of the pandemic, we will be adapting our network of Columbia Global Centers and creating Pop-Up Global Centers in new locations to provide in-person academic and peer engagement. We must continue to vigorously oppose immigration policies that damage Columbia, higher education, the national interest, and the international students, researchers, and faculty who immeasurably enrich our institution and the intellectual and personal experiences of each of us."

NYU and Brown also revealed plans to accommodate international students at risk of deportation, while Princeton, MIT, Duke, and Dartmouth were all in the process of reviewing the impact of this new plan from ICE.

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